Q & A: Spotlight on Nairobi

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The Sankara Nairobi, along with The Tribe, is part of a new breed of 5-star properties looking to take advantage of the increased interest in the Kenyan capital as a business travel and central diplomatic destination. It opened in November 2010, and General Manager Moshi Perera joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat about the current state of the industry and what sort of year it’s been for Sankara.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Kenyan hospitality industry?
There’s huge interest and this was recently underlined at the Hotel Investors Conference in Nairobi, where a number of the major international chains expressed a great deal of interest in Nairobi and Kenya, with regards to future openings. Tourism in East Africa is a key part of the various countries’ economies and Kenya’s tourist arrivals are certainly growing. Kenya is also developing into a sophisticated hotel market and the emergence of the major chains will only provide a catalyst for growth in standards and quality. There will be more competition in innovation, standards and service, all of which will benefit the consumer and boost the quality of the Kenyan hospitality industry.

Are there any particular issues or talking points that are dominating right now?
The main topics are security and the Kenyan elections. Travel warnings and security incidents are affecting the hospitality sector, and Mombasa hotels have endured tough times, as have many of the lodges and camps. Nairobi hotels have also felt the pinch, but not to the same extent, due the business market being more upbeat. There’s concern over the elections, because of what happened before. Many travellers are holding back on trips and the number of advance bookings are down. People outside Kenya imagine the situation to be much worse than it actually is. Nevertheless, all hotels are trying to ensure tighter security and an escalated state of awareness. Also, the state of the world economy is being watched closely. Europe is one of the main feeder markets for tourism, and it’s going through some tough times.

What’s key to making a hotel work in Nairobi?
The million dollar question! There isn’t one element, but in Nairobi at the moment, location is key. Traffic problems often dictate where a business or leisure traveller will stay. Having a modern product, but with elements of Africa, as we have, I believe is important. Technology is also important, in terms of having the connectivity we are all so dependent on. Then there’s innovation, such as the iPad menus we have introduced in our Champagne Bar. Lastly, instilling an atmosphere and good hospitality.

How has Sankara moulded its offering to suit the needs of the modern business traveller?
Modern art, modern technology and the comforts of modern hotel design and expectation, as well as the little touches and detail that can set you apart. We’ve also embraced technology and provided cutting edge innovation for the traveller. Many of our guests think Sankara would not be out of place in the Middle East or even Europe.

What sort of occupancies have you enjoyed in 2012 and would you describe it as a good year?
It’s been a decent year. The market has suffered due to concerns over security and the state of the world economy, particularly in Europe. Occupancies have been in the mid-70s, which considering that there was also some new rooms that entered the market, to sustain growth year on year, is enough to call it a good year.

Having spent a lot of time abroad, how do Africa’s top hotels compare with what you’ve seen in Europe, Asia, the US? What are the biggest differentiating factors?
This is the ‘new Africa’ and the development of hotels is in line with the rising standards globally. The new hotels in Africa are keeping abreast of that, and some are even matching or surpassing those in the rest of the world. There is a growing trend to have the standards raised in Africa to match the tastes of the discerning traveller. Most of the hotels in Africa have existed for a long time and are dated and in need of an upgrade. But, this is changing slowly with the emergence of new hotels and international chains coming into Africa.

Lastly, is there a solution to the infamous Nairobi traffic???
The road infrastructure is coming together slowly. Many of the sections are being completed, but the problem is still very much there. I hope the master plan that is unfolding will assist in helping ease the woes.  Some areas are already showing signs of improvement. Unfortunately, with any road development, I guess it has to get a little worse while the work takes place, before it gets better.