Tourism and hospitality leaders are gathering in Nairobi, Kenya for a major hotel investment conference just two days after a horrific terror attack on the city’s Westgate shopping mall, in which at least 68 people have died and 175 more have been injured.

The siege, believed to be lead by Somalia based Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants al-Shabaab, is ongoing, with hostages reported to remain inside the mall. A rescue operation is underway.

According to the organizers of the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), Bench Events, the conference is moving ahead with “support from the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) and the Kenyan government”.

David Scowsill, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: “Despite this terrible incident in the shopping centre in Nairobi and the appalling loss of life, I am planning to fly to Nairobi on Monday to attend the Africa Hotel Investment Conference. It is important that the travel industry supports Kenya at this difficult time.

“It is an on-going situation and the safety of our delegates is of absolute importance. We will keep you updated and as I said above, we are moving ahead with the conference.”

Now in its second year, AHIF is the premier hotel investment conference in Africa, attracting many prominent international hotel owners, investors, financiers, management companies and their advisers.

The speaker line-up includes many hoteliers also responsible for international chain hotel operations in the Middle East, including Simon Vincent, president EMEA, Hilton Worldwide; Alex Kyriakidis, president & managing director, Middle East and Africa, Marriott International, Inc; Ulrich T. Eckhardt, president India, Middle East & Africa, Kempinski Hotels; Rui Barros, senior vice president & managing director EMEA, Wyndham Hotel Group; and Neil George, senior vice president, acquisitions & development Middle East & Africa, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

When asked the secrets to their success in doing business in Africa, patience, flexibility and personal relationships arose as common themes.

Marriott’s Kyriakidis said: “Our secret is to focus on the right partners who can source financing and stay focused on developing the hotel to opening.”

Mark Willis, area vice president Middle East & Sub-Saharan Africa, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group said: “Successful business on the African continent is all about personal relationships before you even get to the nitty-gritty of closing deals.”

He elaborated: “We work hand in hand with potential owners throughout the process. This shows our commitment and assists greatly in making the deal happen. At the end of the day it is about educating stakeholders. Once you show that commitment and knowledge you are halfway to closing the deal. Networking is key. We get a lot of good leads from our networking and our exposure across the African continent.”

Phiwe Marumo of the Industrial Development Corporation added: “There are no golden rules for doing business in Africa. Flexibility and agility is the prevailing rule of thumb. We need to use different instruments if we are to be relevant and make things work in the markets we do business in. What works in South Africa is not guaranteed to work in another market. We must localise and adapt. Another take away is never underestimate the role and impact of culture, custom and cultural practices on your business and strategy. Organisations must be prepared to adapt as and when necessary.”

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Photo Credit: Kenya Defense Forces soldiers take cover behind walls near the Westgate shopping centre after an exchange of gunfire inside the mall in Nairobi September 23, 2013. Noor Khamis / Reuters