Q and A: Bringing Hotel Luxury to Africa

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Kempinski is an international hotel chain with a significant presence in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Now the group has turned its attention to Africa, and specifically Kenya, with the Olare Mara tented camp opening earlier in 2013, ahead of the expected launch of Kempinski’s Nairobi city hotel, which, at the time of going to press, was due to open any minute. General Manager Bernard Mercier joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat, and expanded on the Kempinski approach.

Q: What is the Kempinski view on Africa and its strategy as it relates to the continent?

A: Kempinski sees Africa not any more as a continent of the future, but as a continent of the now. Our successful arrival in Kenya and other parts of Africa indicate clearly to us that this continent has an abundance of skilled and well-educated labour. We are very bullish in our aim to become the leading hospitality brand in the luxury segment.

Q: What’s your view on the current state of the African hotel market?

A: Very positive. There’s good growth ahead for the mid-level segment and a few luxury hotel brands.

Q: What was the thinking behind opening a new property in Nairobi, as opposed to another high-profile African city?

A: We like Nairobi, due to its strategic location in East Africa, the fact that many international companies have their headquarters for the region here, and the fact that the city is ready to enter the luxury market segment to complement some of the outstanding features that this country already offers.

Q: Where are you expecting to get your business from, for the Nairobi hotel?

A: We foresee strong demand from individual corporate travellers, as well as conferences. Also, leisure travellers that are forced to stop over in Nairobi. Geographically, we anticipate business from established markets such as the US, UK and Germany, as well as emerging markets such as China, South Africa and the UAE.

Q: What’s your response to the view that Nairobi’s 5-star hotel market is over-traded?

A: Yearly occupancies show otherwise. The 5-star hotels in Nairobi are doing quite well. Furthermore, with due respect to our competitors, I am convinced that our product will surpass anything that has come before us. 

Q: What will your hotel offer that the other 5-star Nairobi hotels don’t?

A: Customer care, location and facilities. Not only will our guests stay in exceptionally well-appointed rooms, but the food and beverage offering, as well as our spa, will bring a new sense of luxury to Nairobi.

Q: Is the Westlands area set to be the new hotel development hot spot in Nairobi, and not the CBD?

A: Due to circumstances, land space and traffic, Westlands has been developed as the new CBD. Access to the airport will soon be completed without having to cross down town, which will only add to the attractiveness of Westlands for business. 

Q: What are the hotel needs of the modern day business traveller?

A: Modern facilities, Wi-Fi, easy access to the airport and the feel of a ‘home away from home’, along with service that ensures that every guest leaves satisfied. 

Q: Are you offering complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the hotel?

A: Yes. We offer free Wi-Fi in the public areas, and once guests are registered as GHA members, they enjoy free Internet in their rooms as well. Registration for this is free.

Q: How important will meeting and conference business be to you?

A: Nairobi is the centre of East Africa, and the city is easy to access by air, for many international cities. Business travellers who come here for meetings and conferences are our target market.

Q: Kempinski has also recently opened a property in the Masai Mara. What’s the response been to that property opening?

A: Very positive. We see 100% positive feedback from TripAdvisor, as well as our clients. Kempinski is the only international luxury hotel chain which has an all-inclusive tented camp in the Olare Orok Conservancy at the moment, and we are happy to provide guests with European standard service in the great Savannah of Africa. 

Q: Do you think we can expect more internationally-branded hotel groups to focus more on Africa in the coming years?

A: Yes, definitely. 

Q: There are no Kempinski properties in sub-Saharan Africa. Can we expect that to change in the near future?

A: Yes. I’m not able to share details, but we have signed contracts in sub-Saharan Africa for a full speed expansion. Expect news to be shared by the corporate office very soon.