Information from a usually reliable source in South Sudan’s capital city of Juba has indicated that Rotana, a Middle Eastern hotel group with a sizeable and growing portfolio of hotels and resorts in several countries, may be heading to Juba in a joint venture undertaking. If and when finally confirmed, this would be the first international group of any pedigree to enter the South Sudanese hospitality market, which has so far been almost shunned by the big league operators.
Several major players have in the past argued that the investment climate was far from right for them to put major resources into South Sudan, pointing to lack of incentives for investors, uncertainty over land ownership, outright or through leases, slow legislative and regulatory reforms to bring South Sudan to the level of other East African countries and a prohibitive foreign currency regime which does not allow investors to remit any dividends at will as well as may encumber servicing loans from foreign financial institutions for such projects. Absence of key double taxation agreements too were cited as were ongoing security issues named as a serious obstacle.
In fact, two months ago one leading East African hotelier based in Nairobi, when discussing the opportunities which South Sudan’s independence opened up for the hospitality sector, on condition of strict anonymity said: “If I cannot remit my management fees to Kenya, why should I send top level manpower there. How do I pay them? The downfall of Jetlink is for everyone fresh in mind. And besides those financial issues, there is the perception about security in South Sudan. They do little to address those perceptions and that is a big reason why tourism has failed to take off there. Too much red tape, too much uncertainty and neither is good for business. It is not just about opportunities, those are there but also about a well regulated and legally secure business environment.”
The Rotana project though seems well connected and local partners will no doubt have to take care of such issues as have been mentioned by others.
Located, according to the source, at an area of Juba known as Jebel Kujur, the hotel and a complex of serviced apartments and a gated estate for villas and residences, will cost at least US$60 million for the first phase but that figure may double when the next phase of residential developments goes underway following the completion of the main hotel project. According to the source construction may still start before the end of this year on a site covering about 27 hectares of land, and to support the information has the source included an artist’s impression of the proposed hotel, which Rotana will reportedly manage on opening.
More information will be sought on the occasion of a short return to Juba over the coming weeks, when hopefully also added details can be obtained about the state of tourism to South Sudan’s incredibly rich wildlife parks, and the facilitation of tourist visitors vis-a-vis the current red tape in place.