• GM’s death reminds sector of hotels’ vulnerability

Operators have increasingly turned to politically-unstable regions in recent years in the search for new markets, meeting demand from aid agencies, political groups and businessmen.

However, the death of Stéphane Frantz di Rippel, a GM in Côte d'Ivoire, has reminded the sector that the risks are not restricted to potential loss of investment, as an international brand may be a guarantee of quality, but is not an assurance of safety.

Di Rippel started his career with Accor in France in 1985, later joining the Africa region as GM of the Novotel and Ibis Cotonou and then moving to Togo as GM of the Mercure Lomé Sarakawa. He took over as GM of the Novotel Abidjan a few months ago and was kidnapped in April along with three guests during armed clashes between rival political factions in the Ivory Coast capital, Yamoussoukro.

Accor chairman and CEO Denis Hennequin said in a statement: "I am deeply shaken and shocked by this revolting murder. My first thoughts go to our employee's children, family and loved ones. The group will provide them with all the necessary support at this painful time.

"This has been a tremendous shock for all of our employees, who have constantly sent messages of support from around the world since the kidnapping."

The kidnapped guests were Frenchman Yves Lambelin, chairman of Ivory Coast's biggest private firm, Sifca, a Malaysian, Chelliah Pandian, director of the Sifca subsidiary Sania and Lambelin's Beninois assistant Raoul Adeossi.

The kidnappings came during April's civil war, which saw the overthrow of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, replaced by French-backed Alassane Ouattara. Fighting had been ongoing between the supporters of the two men after the disputed presidential elections in November 2010. In April, when fighting worsened, French and UN forces intervened directly, attacking Gbagbo's residence and supporting Ouattara's forces as they assaulted the commercial capital, Abidjan, where Accor's Novotel was located.

The Ivory Coast has been independent of France since 1960, but retained close economic and political ties and, due in part to its relative stability in the region, has been one of Africa's leading economies amongst its non-oil-exporting countries.

The 2002 civil war, which continued until 2007, destabilised the country, following a period of recession and the 2010 election was the first election to take place since the peace accord was signed. The disputed result then led to further civil war, in which France and the UN became involved as peacekeepers.

At the time of the kidnapping, France had sent 300 troops to add to the 1,200 already stationed as part of a 9,000-strong UN force and had faced criticism from Gbagbo's supporters, who accused the former leader of having colonial ambitions.

Although Novotel is a French brand and Di Rippel was a French citizen, there has been no suggestion that the kidnapping was targeted because of the role of France in the recent disturbances and was instead a case of wrong place, wrong time. However, it remains a possibility and, for Accor, the French links to the Ivory Coast have seen it open four hotels in the region, under the Pullman, Novotel and Ibis brands, further exposing it.

HA Perspective: The Arab spring is but the latest geo-political development that has brought into focus the security issues that face operators looking to global expansion. Groups are used to providing personal security for their development executives in volatile regions and have used private security teams to protect their hotels and staff in countries such as Egypt and Libya in recent months. The inevitability is that the accessibility of hotels, illustrated by events such as the suicide bombings in Pakistan, means that sometimes this will not be enough.

When Marriott properties were targeted two years ago in Jakarta, your correspondent appeared on CNN to discuss whether US branded hotels were likely to be avoided by guests in the future as such hotels were more likely than non-US hotels to be targeted by terrorists. My point then remains the same today: that if anything, terror attacks are likely to push guests towards big global brands where they can be assured of the best possible security. Most of these are American, some are French. What matters is not the nationality of the brand owning company but whether guests have faith in that company's procedures.

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