Q & A: Standing Firm

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When it opened in August 2010, the 5-star Sankara Nairobi was the first property from Sankara Hotels and Resorts. Located in the upmarket Westlands suburb, the hotel has emerged as one of Nairobi’s premier hotel properties. As the Sankara prepares to celebrate its fourth birthday, General Manager Moshi Perera joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat.

Q: What do you think the Sankara has brought to the Westlands region?
A:
Westlands has become the new ‘hub’ of Nairobi. It has established itself as the commercial and entertainment centre of the city. Our focus has always been two-fold: to be a world class hotel that provides all the functional amenities and technology that a traveller would expect, but also to be a vibrant space where residents come together to meet, be entertained and connect.

Q: Is it possible that we will see the Sankara model rolled out elsewhere in the future?
A:
The Sankara offering is one that is ideally suited to development across key gateway cities in Africa. A development plan is something clearly in its sights and in the pipeline.

Q: Kempinski opened a property down the road in 2013. Are you expecting more international brands in the area?
A:
With the focus of Nairobi as a key commercial gateway city, there is naturally a lot of interest in the city by international hotel brands. The Hotel Investors Conference which has taken place in Nairobi for the last two years has estbalished the interest of international chains expanding in Africa and indeed this region. There are already some international brands in the pipeline for the area.

Q: Has Westlands become the new Nairobi hotel hotspot?
A:
Its location and convenience make it an attractive locale for hotels. It’s a hub for several multinationals and corporations, has easy access to the northern suburbs where several diplomatic and NGO offices are located as well as prime residential property, and it is also only five kilometres from the CBD.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Nairobi CBD and its potential for hotel development?
A:
The city of Nairobi is developing and much of the recent development has been in the Westlands area, extending the CBD with a number of commercial buildings coming up within Westlands. As the area for development outside the CBD becomes saturated, the focus will more than likely go back towards redevelopment of the CBD in time.

Q: How has the Nairobi hotel market responded to the Westgate Mall tragedy of 2013?
A:
As with any terrorist activity, there has been an impact on tourism – leisure and business – and Westgate brought the healthy momentum of traffic into Nairobi to a standstill. Hotels in the city did experience large cancellations in bookings. The Kenya Tourist Board and Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers have been active in trying to rebuild from the tragedy through numerous activities, initiatives and campaigns. The market for Nairobi is mainly business orientated, and invariably any business plans post-Westgate were put on hold and rebounded gradually. The mood is cautious, with confidence slowly returning to the market. 

Q: How did this tragic event affect your business?
A:
Of course in the days directly after the attacks we did have cancellations, even with business travellers. We have slowly seen business return to a sense of ‘normalcy’ – this is in large part due to our proactive efforts. We understand that the security and comfort of our guests is of the utmost importance. We have taken steps to enhance our already stringent security measures. In fact, we were the first hotel in Africa to attain the Safe Hotels Certification. Such measures give guests a sense of confidence in the property they are staying at.

Q: The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport fire in 2013 was another catastrophic event. What has been its impact?
A:
It has not deterred business travel into the city. The airport is a key regional airport and transit point across the continent and further into both Europe and Asia. There was minimal disruption to departures and arrivals. To that end, business travel into the capital has not been impacted by the fire. Corporates are still able to get in and out with relative ease.

Q: What could be done to improve Nairobi as a business travel destination? 
A:
There is a lot being done already in improvements to the infrastructure in roads and airports, hotels and shopping.
Q: What is your advice for someone travelling to Nairobi on business for the first time?
A:
Traffic can be a challenge, so it’s always best to book at a hotel convenient to where you will be doing business or having meetings. Also consider the area you may need to go to for dinner and entertainment.