Q&A: The future is positive

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After completing his hospitality education at a premium institute in Switzerland and gaining initial work experience, Ghulam Samdani, General Manager of Kenya’s Ole-Sereni Hotel, moved to U.S.A. to further pursue his education. This was followed by extensive work experience at branded and stand-alone hotels under various positions predominantly focusing on food and beverage. He took some time to enlighten Business Traveller Africa about the Ole-Sereni and the state of the hotel industry in East Africa.

Q: How did you end up in Kenya?
A:
I have always favoured unique challenges, especially when it comes to my career. Africa was never on the cards, but when I saw the opportunity and moreover, when I realised that not many professionals take these sorts of opportunities, I was even more intrigued.

Q: What was your initial assessment of the Ole-Sereni when you arrived to take up your position?
A:
I was awe-stricken and instantly felt its massive potential. It easily appeals to a business traveller and, at the same time, offers a memorable experience to a leisure traveller. As the only hotel in the world which borders the only national game park in a city, it offers a wonderful combination of serenity and city life.

Q: Are you privy to the history behind the origins of the Ole-Sereni?
A:
Ole-Sereni used to house the American Embassy. When the stakeholders sold the building, they agreed that they would have the first right of refusal if the embassy ever wanted to sell. Lucky for them, the embassy knocked on their door when the time came and it was bought back by the same stakeholders with an idea to convert it into a grand hotel.

Q: What’s the thinking behind opening a new hotel adjacent to the current one?
A:
The existing hotel is rarely considered to host major conferences due to lack of space or room inventory. Because of this, we made the conscious decision to bridge this gap by offering a product which addresses the need for extensive and professional conference facilities. 

Q: Do you believe this will help Ole-Sereni dominate the Nairobi airport road hotel market?
A:
Yes, to a certain extent. Any hotelier’s dream is to stand head-and-shoulders above the competition and we are no different. We aim to be the most desirable hotel in the corporate and conference segment in Nairobi.

Q: What’s unique to operating a hotel on the main road connecting the airport with the city centre?
A:
We cater to a diverse range of guests. From a leisure traveller who is en-route to the Masai Mara, to a businessman who has flown in for a day’s meeting, to a group attending a residential conference. Being able to deliver an ever-changing guest preferences is what makes this operation so unique.

Q: What are your general thoughts on the state of the Nairobi hotel market?
A:
These are very exciting times for hotels and hoteliers, but lately we’ve experienced drastic shifts in the business. The terror alerts have chased potential business away and travellers are thinking twice before coming to Kenya. The past two years have been rough for all hotels, especially in the coastal regions. Recently, however, the market has stabilised and the inflow of travellers has been encouraging.

Q: Do you have an opinion on the number of international hotel brands fighting for a presence on the African continent?
A:
Given the decent occupancies most in East African hotels, it’s obvious that international brands are scouting for presence in this region. I believe in the coming years we will see a wave of branded hotels.

Q: How has the spread of the Ebola virus affected business in the last six months?
A:
We have been gravely affected. We experienced numerous individual and group cancellations with no replacement business, but the local market helped to sustain us. We still have clients who want to be assured, before making reservations, that Nairobi is not affected by Ebola. 

Q: How has terrorist activity in Kenya affected business in the past two years?
A:
Business has been extremely erratic. At one point we had no control over the occupancy forecast thanks to ongoing terrorist activities, and the constant alerts from the Travel Advisory made it tougher. Travellers were convinced that Africa was no-go destination. But the situation has turned around and people are now more willing to travel.

Q: Do you have any tips for a business traveller making his or her first trip to Nairobi?
A:
Come with a worry-free, positive attitude. Nairobi has much to offer and is becoming the ‘Flavour of Africa’. It caters to every segment, and offers fantastic business opportunities and hotels. 

Q: In your opinion, what is the current state of the hotel industry in Africa?
A:
The current situation is very encouraging. We are seeing positive growth in the coming months in comparison to same time last year. Major hotels are slated to open doors this year – a clear indication that this industry is on a positive growth trend.