Before signing up with an independent loyalty program it’s important for hotels to reflect on why branded loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton HHonors add value. These types of loyalty programs incentivize guests to book with a brand by offering experiential and monetary incentives. Experiential incentives include things like room upgrades, WiFi and late checkout which sway frequent travelers into booking via a loyalty program because they actually get better treatment than the average guest. Monetary incentives enable loyalty program members to experience higher property tiers which also can drive loyalty. For example, a frequent Marriott Courtyard business traveller can build up points and use them towards a stay at W Hotels where they ordinarily wouldn’t have stayed. By staying at a higher tier property within the network that guest now has a haloed perception of the Marriott brand as a whole. Circa 2010, independent hotels took note of the massive growth in branded loyalty programs and banded together via programs like iPrefer (by Preferred Hotels & Resorts) and Stash Hotel Rewards. An April 2018 study by Oracle Hospitality (study here) highlights the dynamic that helped such programs grow. Namely, there is a discrepancy between hotel perceptions of loyalty programs and the reality of such programs. According to the study, hotel managers believe that 61% of guests sign-up for loyalty programs while in reality only 24% actually do. Similarly, hotels perceive that 54% of guests will find offers relevant while in reality only 22% of guests believe that offers made by loyalty programs are relevant. Revinate summarizes data from Oracle's loyalty study Just because hotels overestimate the value of loyalty programs doesn’t mean that they don’t add value. Ultimately even small volumes of incremental bookings can still deliver a high ROI so independent hotels should still consider joining an independent loyalty program but should do so with realistic expectations. Independent loyalty programs that try to mimic branded programs rarely work. Smart hoteliers know that points are mostly irrelevant when it comes to the world of independents since booking with another property in the network has no impact on loyalty for your own property. The landing page for Destination Hotels & Resorts’ Destination Delivers program is a testament to the death of points for independent hotels: "This unique loyalty club is filled with perks. Not points." ~ Destination Hotels & Resorts A 2019 Revinate study shows that groups with more than 50 hotels can sometimes benefit from pursuing points based programs while smaller groups (under 50 properties) rarely benefit from such programs. When loyalty members receive points towards a program like Marriott Bonvoy their loyalty is building towards Marriott corporate rather than towards an individual property or sub-brand. The problem with what we call ‘independent loyalty 1.0’ (e.g. iPrefer and Stash Rewards) is the misconception that loyalty is actually being built towards a specific property. Where programs such as iPrefer and Stash Rewards are still operating dated points based system models, Guestbook Rewards is a new kind of loyalty program that is more in touch with how today’s traveller behaves and books. It's worth noting that Preferred Hotels & Resorts has sales infrastructure and relationships with travel advisors that bring material business for it's portfolio. The firm also provides cost purchasing benefits so while the iPrefer value prop is in our opinion relatively weak there are other facets of the program which are definitely attractive for independent hotels. Guestbook Rewards understands that driving true guest loyalty to independent properties by giving points to spend at other properties is a near impossible feat. As a result, the Company has positioned itself as a way to increase conversion on hotel websites via offers and cashback. Guests choose between three options: 5% cash back, a 5% charitable donation or 15% trip cash that can be used within The Guestbook’s network of ~700 hotels. By offering cashback through a 3rd party, hotel clients are able to circumvent rate parity clauses with OTAs and create their own version of a private offer program like many of the brands have today and leverage exclusive loyalty network pricing to bring in more direct bookings. Independent hotels should explore the Guestbook because they want to incentivize direct bookings without breaking parity, not because they expect material bookings from The Guestbook’s loyalty program member base. While expectations should be modest the Company now offers a "Guestbook Guarantee” of fully offsetting its fees with new inbound business. To their credit, The Guestbook recognized this and developed a Chrome Plugin called Gopher which helps internet browsers find the best hotel deals by scanning hotel websites in real time. According to the Google Chrome store, the Gopher plugin has ~3,600 users so it’s unlikely to drive material volume for clients today but has the potential to solve the problem and is a clear demonstration that The Guestbook has a better pulse on technology and internet behavior trends than most of its competitors. The Guestbook claims that it also has a similar number of users in the Safari App store but Apple doesn't publicize figures. Gopher has taken queue from a company called Honey which allows shoppers to check prices while shopping ecommerce websites. While the Gopher strategy doesn’t seem to have paid off yet for The Guestbook, the Honey plugin has grown to 10M+ users which is a testament to the larger opportunity around online shopper price checking if the team can figure out the right growth strategy over the medium to long term. Independent hotels that are looking to increase direct bookings can benefit from joining a program like The Guestbook but benefits can vary property by property so it’s important for hoteliers to read authentic peer reviews and request unmoderated referrals to properly evaluate the program. Read Guestbook reviews Request Guestbook references Independent hotels should think of The Guestbook’s program as a substitute to a direct booking platform like Stay Wanderful which also offer rewards for booking direct but can be used in tandem with platforms like Triptease. Where The Guestbook has a narrow focus on facilitating offers, platforms like Triptease have a more comprehensive and data driven website conversion optimization approach. Stay Wanderful sits somewhere in the middle. We sat down with The Guestbook’s Dev Dugal to get his take on where independent loyalty has been and where it’s going. Dev brings an interesting perspective to the discussion having previously owned his own hospitality business and also having worked in several mid sized hotel organizations before making the leap into hotel software and technology. Dev advanced quickly in his career by leveraging a unique combination of interpersonal skills and technical adaptability. As a hotelier, Dev was always a technology maven who constantly sought to implement new technologies and marketing strategies for his hotels. His story provides a roadmap for competitive hotel marketers seeking to beat out the compset and also for hoteliers with aspirations to leverage their hospitality skills to build a successful career in technology. Dev is widely regarded in the hotel community as a networking guru and marketing expert so we were lucky to catch up with him in between his jet setting. The Guestbook's Dev Dugal Tell us about your career in hotels. I started my career in hospitality as a barback in some of the busiest bars in LA. Eventually working my way to bartender, manager and eventually opening up my own bar in DTLA in 2006 called The Redwood. The bar business was very exciting but once my wife and I started a family, I sought a different pace of life and not the 3am late nights. So I transitioned to the hotel space in 2008 joining a family owned Hospitality company called Globiwest Hospitality as their VP of Marketing & IT. I was immediately tasked with helping to launch the first independent boutique hotel in Brooklyn called Hotel Le Bleu. Next, joining broughtonHOTELS as VP of Sales & Marketing, I led the marketing vision for 16 hotels on the California coast and Chicago. During both roles, I challenged myself to cross train in Revenue Management, Operations and Finance. More importantly I enjoyed working the Front Desk and Housekeeping to stay grounded to the heart of the hotel. I took a hiatus in 2014 for a few years to start a non-profit focused on building schools in the slums of India and re-entered by joining an amazing team at The Guestbook in 2017. I consider myself a connector of ideas and people. Hospitality gives me that platform to shine, travel the world and impact businesses. I also gravitate to boutique hotels rather than brands as they allow for much more creativity with an elevated curated experience for the guest. Some of my most challenging times in hotels were working with Owners to clearly grasp digital marketing concepts. Similar to how people self prescribe diagnosis after reading WebMD, hotel owners often dictated marketing direction with buzzwords like PPC or SEO however, never fully understanding them. This was a consistent battle but I thrived in those challenges and breakthroughs, eventually letting the analytics speak for themselves. What was one technology that you couldn't live without in your former role in hospitality? Google Analytics has always been a solid tool to use as a source of analytics. It provides for so much data in one place to see real time the success of integrated strategies. One of the most important tools in the last few years was the CRM tool. It provided a landscape to work within the entire life cycle of the guest experience and the digital touch points were a vital part to success. When did you first become interested in leveraging technology to become a better hotelier? I think it started when I had an early stint in Real Estate as an agent. In the early 2000's I saw veteran agents knocking on doors and buying ads in newspapers. I realized leveraging technology was the more efficient way than knocking on doors. So I slowly built up a database of emails to over 15k and sent out a monthly newsletter for lead generation. With that same logic I noticed that trend in the hotel space in 2008. After the financial crisis, hotels were scrambling for business and heavily relying on the OTAs. With the help of eCommerce and integrated solutions, I knew this was the future for hotels too. I became an avid reader of industry leaders and leveraged the best of breed in marketing practices shortly after. As a hotelier what was your biggest frustration with technology vendors? One of my biggest frustrations with technology vendors is the sneaky "Auto Renewal". I got burned by a vendor early in my hotel career and they wouldn't let me out of the contract. Talking to friends in the business I discovered this was a shared pain point. After that first incident, I made a decision to never let it happen again and continue to share my technique with hoteliers today. Right after executing an Agreement with any vendor, I immediately send them an email stating my notice to not renew. Literally the day after the ink is dry. The notice indicates that we do not intend to renew and will discuss the option as the renewal period closes in. Most importantly, I have them confirm it in writing over email. This leaves a nice audit trail for anyone on my team and with the vendor should there be a change in management. What is the biggest misconception that hoteliers have about technology? Some folks tend to overanalyze technology. I love that we have the ability to A/B test products and solutions. However, some hoteliers never get out of the starting gate. One of my mentors really honed in and taught me about the age-old saying, "Perfection is the enemy of good." He was the first leader that forced me to break previous habits of "getting it right" and simply start. He said to get it "good" and clean up the mess along the way. With this in hand, we were able to test out many new technologies and marketing strategies. Tell us about your journey from hotelier into technologist? Funny thing is that I started my career as a computer nerd. I graduated with a Computer Information Systems major in college and spent my early career coding in a cubicle with .NET development and SQL. I started bartending at night to have a break from the tech world. So in a way, technology has always been a part of me before becoming a hotelier. Now I'm able to leverage and have a real passion for connecting those dots to business strategy. What was the most challenging part of moving from hotels into technology? For me personally, losing a little of the human touch and pulse of the hotel. With the technology, it's very easy to only have digital relationships. Being a hotelier provided opportunity to be at the Front Desk, walk the property and connect with guests from all around the globe. I miss those elements. The Guestbook has become the clear independent loyalty leader and disrupted incumbents in a very short period of time - what’s driving that growth? The Guestbook is the first and only Cash Back Loyalty platform for independent and boutique hotels. We work with over 700+ hotels in 65+ countries to increase direct booking conversion on a hotel's website by 20%+. Guests have the availability to earn and redeem either of 3 options; 5% cash back on their stay, donate that 5% to any charity of their choice, or 15% Trip Cash towards a future Guestbook stay at any of our properties around the world. No set-up fee. No commitment. Cancel anytime. Imagine that you're going to open the hotel of your dreams tomorrow. What kind of hotel would it be? Independent boutique, Select-Serve maybe with a lobby bar. I'm a big proponent for Downtown LA and feel there is also opportunity in markets like Oakland. 75-100 rooms paying homage to local street artists. I'm also a big fan of the bed+beverage concept. Bar on the ground floor and maybe 40 keys above into an integrated space. Can't reveal any names just yet as I already have some domains secured. ;-) What technology would you leverage at your hotel? Cloud based PMS, robust CRS with significant channel management integration, backed by an easy to use CRM. An AI smart concierge, eventually reducing the dependency on the front desk and of course a rewards platform, The Guestbook! What's one piece of advice you have for hoteliers who have dreams of working in technology one day? Read (books, not social media) + source mentors. Mentors have been integral to the trajectory of my career. Balanced with what you learn from books with the real life experience of mentors. Book knowledge + street knowledge. What's one podcast, newsletter or book that you recommend hoteliers read if they'd like to eventually move into tech? Glenn Haussman has a series of great podcasts (No Vacancy). I love reading about direct booking strategies so Triptease blog, OTA Insight newsletters and webinars are underrated. A free interactive webinar with live Q&A is one of my favorite places to learn. What is your favorite hotel in the world and why? Currently, I'm digging the CitizenM brand. The simply went against the grain and put the guest experience first. For example, they went with King sized beds when everyone stuck with Queens. Their founder said something to the likes of, "If a car is Tesla, then a hotel is CitizenM". I dig that and their hotels are awesome. What is the most exciting technology you've seen in the hotel tech space lately? The team at Go Moment have been working on some neat AI tech with their smart concierge. The tech gets smarter and smarter with more data points and interaction from a guest perspective is seamless. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? Recently, I moved our family of four from the comforts of Los Angeles to Spain! We are giving our children an opportunity to be global citizens and honing my skills in being a true digital nomad. Experiences over things.
Hotel Loyalty Programs for Independents Software Articles
The hotel industry has moved into the era of soft brands unofficially started by Hilton through the DoubleTree brand. The initial idea was to find a way for the Hilton development team to help owners of subpar hotels (ones that didn't meet brand standards) plug into Hilton's distribution network and (and consequently for Hilton to earn franchise fees from a larger pool of the market). This evolution progressed as Marriott launched the Autograph Collection and eventually turned into an arms race with Starwood's Luxury Collection and acquisition of European based Design Hotels. The trend has allowed hotel brands to grow faster in a world where they are asset light (no longer own property). Soft brands make a ton of sense for development teams at major brands because when owners either don't want to conform to brand standards or want to remain localized and unique, major brands now have an attractive offering that their development teams can pitch. For owners, the value of joining a 'soft brand' ultimately comes from plugging into a global sales, marketing and distribution network. One of the key components of that lies in tapping into those brands' loyalty programs. For independents who want to truly stay that way there are some great options available; however, it's important to find the right fit for your hotel as there is no one size fits all like the brands. "Just because a loyalty program is "free to join" does NOT mean that it's free. Every booking that comes through your shiny new loyalty program comes at a cost and that cost can add up quickly if the program is cannibalizing direct bookings rather than driving incremental bookings for your property." Whichever provider you choose make sure that you are keeping a pulse on cost and are comparing that to OTAs. Then compare the total bookings to OTAs. If you are paying 7% on direct bookings to a program that isn't driving incremental guests to your property you may be better off with a 12% OTA commission so it's important to think strategically and analytically about your decision. "Ask yourself: is this loyalty program actually going to drive loyalty or is it just a mechanism to incentivize direct bookings on my website?" As with any technology decision, independents should think about their business mix and objectives before signing on with an independent loyalty program. Signing with the wrong loyalty program can end up being a huge time suck without material gains and sometimes even hurt your business if they are eating away at your direct bookings but not providing new ones. San Francisco's Hotel Abri (pictured) is part of the Stash Rewards program There are 2 main ways that an independent loyalty program can bring value to your property: 1. Increase conversion rate on your website 2. Drive new bookings through their online portal When deciding which independent hotel loyalty program to join consider the following: 1. Unit economics and breakeven analysis: Assuming the loyalty program shifts various levels of your direct bookings onto the program - how much profit would your hotel lose per month? How much would the program have to increase your website conversion rate at each level to help you regain that profitability? 2. Is their network actually valuable? How much volume does the program drive to hotels like yours? Ask for a reference hotel in your market segment and see whether the program is actually delivering the business they tell you that they can. How much web traffic does their booking portal have? A huge network isn't much use to you as a hotelier if they don't have lots of travelers booking on their portal. Ultimately a great loyalty program will drive a material amount of new business so if they don't have traffic on their branded OTA style website - ask them why that is. Also ask about their geographic focus. E.g. If you have a large mix of Asian business travelers and they don't have properties in that market, you'll want to think about whether joining is going to move the needle for your business. Ultimately we urge hoteliers to recognize that you are not just comparing loyalty programs here. Most programs don't bring a material amount of incremental travelers to your property since the networks are still in their nascent phases. This means that the majority of the value is in driving direct bookings. If a loyalty program is charging you 10% on each booking that capitalizes on the program and you get $3,000 worth of bookings in a month via redemptions you have just "paid" $300 to be a part of that program. If you are in the 10% range for fees and getting $3,000 or more in bookings - you might want to consider spending that ~$300/month on a direct booking platform like Triptease or Stay Wanderful that won't charge commissions. Here are the top loyalty programs for independent hotels... iPrefer (by Preferred Hotels & Resorts) iPrefer taps into a network of more than 650 independent properties around the world separated into different collections. They consider themselves the world's "largest independent hotel brand" and given the movement although we at Hotel Tech Report don't really consider Preferred a brand. Points can be redeemed at starting at $1,250 for a $25 gift certificate to a participating property in the network. iPrefer's web portal has about 3x the traffic of the #2 provider on this list so they are the most likely to drive incremental bookings for your property. Another unique facet of iPrefer is the network and the fact that you can achieve Elite Status within the program just like at major programs like SPG. Elite members receive benefits such as 10% bonus points, complimentary Wi-Fi, early check-in and welcome amenity packages. The exchange ratio is around 2% meaning that for every $100 guests will get $2 back. Preferred also has official partnerships in the airline space offering decent bonuses (2x) with participating airlines such as American, Alaska, British Airways, United and Air France/KLM. Read iPrefer reviews from verified clients GuestBook Rewards GuestBook Rewards is the fastest growing program in the space offering the easiest and has the simplest offer around - 5% cash back. Guest can then choose to redeem points at a participating hotel for 10% "trip cash". The GuestBook has quickly grown to 600 hotels within just a few years having launched later than Stash Rewards and likely due to the fact that guests often want cash back, especially leading up to the point where the network provides real value. Our guess is that GuestBook's network isn't quite large enough to attract many new guests to your property but is getting close and has the best chances of getting there due to the instant value they provide to bookers. The Company also launched a partnership to integrate directly with TravelClick's iHotelier Booking Engine which will likely help grow their network over the next couple of years. The GuestBook also has the #2 online portal by our web traffic estimates (#1 is iPrefer) meaning that they are the likely to drive some amount incremental bookings to the most popular hotels in the ecosystem. Read Guestbook Rewards reviews from verified clients Catalonia Rewards (by Wanup) European based Catalonia Rewards is one of the newest to the market but is also growing rapidly and has signed on more than 400 hotels since it launched in September of 2016. Similar to The GuestBook Wanup offers cash back between 3-6% depending on the tier of the member. The program also offers F&B discounts which are usually a smaller/more profitable offer than straight cash back and perceived as higher value in the mind of the guest. If you have frequent visits from European travelers Catalonia Rewards may be preferable to The GuestBook but if you have a global traveler base you're probably better off with using The GuestBook or iPrefer as they offer more reach in the network. Read Catalonia Rewards Reviews from verified clients Stash Rewards Stash Rewards has over 200 hotels in their portfolio and is very U.S. focused. Guests receive 5 points per dollar and a point is worth ~$0.01 per dollar according to our sources which is not bad. The install base hasn't grown much in recent years so it's worth asking why that is before joining on with the program. Make sure to ask the questions in the article above before signing on and read verified Stash reviews from hoteliers like you who use the program. Stash Rewards sponsored a very interesting research study at Cornell's hospitality school in 2014 showing that loyalty programs can help increase room nights with frequent travellers and while the dynamics of direct bookings and consumer preferences have changed quite a bit in the last 4-5 years the study provides a good foundation for how to think about whether a loyalty program will meet your hotel's goals. Read Stash Rewards reviews from verified clients Voila Hotel Rewards Voila Rewards features over 100 independent hotels around the world and while it has a U.S. presence is much more focused on Asia and Europe. This program offers a tiered system like iPrefer. Guests may choose to exchange points for airline miles but not at an economical rate so it's more just a vanity option. With Voila there is a 2x points bonus when members reach Platinum status (20 nights in 12-months) so this program is great for hotels who have frequent business travelers but due to the small network might not be as attractive for destination properties with a high leisure mix. Read Voila Hotel Rewards reviews from verified clients InnDependent InnCentives (by IBC Technologies) IBC's loyalty program for independent hotels helps owners increase direct bookings to their properties by allowing guests to choose from hotel credits, airline miles, eGift cards, merchandise, charities and more. By offering alternative redemptions this network is valuable despite having a smaller user base than some of the others on this list. We think that the options for guests are attractive; however it might not offer the best value for redemptions given that they are purchased from 3rd party providers. The company also doesn't offer a separate booking portal like some of the others on this list which means they don't offer the reach that some of the other programs do. Read IBC Inncentives reviews from verified clients
When guests arrive at your property, is it teeming with life and energy, or quiet and nearly empty in common areas? If you are looking to have an energetic vibe at your hotel, think about an untapped group that are near your property every day: locals. Tapping into your local community can help your property in a number of ways. Bringing in steady traffic: The first focus for tapping your local community is to have a steady stream of traffic onto your property. This can help with F&B sales, spa services, and even ‘stay-cation’ stays. Locals are a great group that can visit your property more than once a year, or even once a month. Having steady traffic from your local community is a great way to build loyalty and sales. You can provide local specials or food and beverage that showcase history or activity in the community. Showing energy and engagement at your property: Having a good number of locals can also help create the energy and engagement you seek at your property. Imagine a new visitor coming onto your property for the first time, and seeing your lobby bar full of activity and happy visitors, your restaurant booked for the evening and overall strong engagement between locals who are proud of their city and visitors who are interested in learning more about the city they are in. As engagement foundation, locals should be a cornerstone for your property’s activity. Encouraging great reviews: One final consideration is how your locals can boast about your amazing property features, as they have access to them every day. Encourage locals to share what they love about visiting your property and what makes their visits special. There may be a spa service they come for, a drink they enjoy after a hard day’s work, or simply the ambiance and luxury the property gives them. By sharing these tips, they are helping you showcase the best features of your property – and it may even be things you did not know. Tap into the amazing local community around your property. They can give you engagement that your guests will enjoy and make your property the place to be.
Conferencing, meetings and events capacity on the rise across the continent.Business travel across the African continent is, well, big business. Not only is it on the rise, but the foundations that support it are growing apace. From improved air access to increased hotel capacity for conferencing, many nations across the continent are shaping up for a competitive future. With the development of business travel facilities, leisure travel opportunities are also growing.Who's travelling?There's continent-wide development taking place, countries such as India, China, Singapore and more are partnering with African countr ies to hasten the development process by building networking capabilities, transport solutions and construction projects at an unprecedented rate. Protea Hotels by Marriott is deep into this new wave of Afrocentricity, with 65 acquisitions and property developments in the pipeline, geared towards ensuring that the infrastructure is there to support material growth.Regional travel is also growing, and, with the hotel developments, frequent travellers will benefit from loyalty programs. Marriott Rewards, the world's biggest loyalty program with over 100 million members “ and a million new members every month “ is ideally placed to suit the super-traveller. Elite members spend anything between 25 and 100 bed nights per year in hotels, so the loyalty program can provide accommodation at a premium to those businesses who require accommodation representation in many different countries.You could be in Ghana one month and Kenya the next, ten years ago the headache of making travel arrangements made the trips thankless, full of red tape and often resulting in having to stay in sub-standard accommodation. With global companies entering into the equation, there's more parity in between establishments, and a greater chance that the business traveller will have their preferences and expectations met. The point is, big players have noted that the need has been there to develop in under-developed spaces, and these needs are rapidly being fulfilled. Gone are the perceptions that countries in Africa will never compete with "the West", the reality is that with infrastructural developments, African countries are increasingly capable of holding their own against countries to the north, east and west.Besides the benefit to the end user, the traveller, entire local economies are benefiting from these hotel developments. Getting a hotel up and running, or refurbishing an existing hotel has an extensive ripple effect througho ut many sectors, from construction to design. Architects and interior designers, graphic designers and tech specialists, marketers and advertisers and the many tiers to the supply chains of bedding, food and beverages all benefit. With growth and expansion come much-needed employment opportunities, and, again, with a global chain, it's possible for team members to develop world-class skills and expose them to international employment opportunities.Picture for a moment how many people it takes to staff one hotel. Then multiply that by 65 and the numbers become mind boggling. Thousands of individuals and their families will have the opportunity to enjoy job security.Conferencing, meetings and eventsAffordability is at the heart of planning when it comes to business travel, especially in event planning and logistics. Having more facilities available for conferencing reduces the need for extended flights, and having more flight routes available p rovides ease of access to more destinations. The travel and business network is growing at a furious pace. Couple the infrastructure that facilitates this with massive growth in internet access and business people are able to conduct more business online “ saving time and money.Take a look at Rwanda, currently the jewel in the continent's crown for the rate at which it has brought its citizens online, providing the means of access to the internet. In a country with few natural resources, online access means access to trade opportunities that may not have otherwise been available. Besides e-commerce, computer literacy gives locals the opportunity to become global citizens. In the 23 years since the horrific conflict that tore the nation apart, they've reimagined themselves as the country showcasing the possibilities for development in Africa."Bleisure" travel a secondary benefitBusiness travel is on the rise, as is leisure travel. With growth in the volumes of middle-class black travellers the tourism industry is set to boom. More than old-school safari experiences, people want to have immersive experiences across the many countries within Africa with the vast array of cultural offerings. Across borders there's such variety that we'll start to see each nation being individually identified “ no longer will international travellers refer to Africa as one homogenous place, but, with improved access and facilities to each country, differentiation will occur: travellers will get to know the difference between Ethiopia and Botswana or South Africa and Tanzania.The route to Africa is opening up, and, if you haven't explored for both business and leisure purposes, it's time to get going.