NAIROBI, August 28 – The re-launch of the Fairmont chain of hotels that was to take place early this year has now been pushed to 2009.
The one year delay is being blamed on bottlenecks experienced in the importation of building materials, and further accelerated by the post election violence that rocked the country early this year.
Speaking to Capital Business News, Fairmont East Africa Managing Director Sean Billing said the renovation of the Fairmont Mara, Mt Kenya and Norfolk properties, which had initially experienced a one-year delay are still behind schedule.
“Clearing cargo at the port has been a nightmare resulting to increased costs due to taxes and extra transport expenses of the building materials,” Billing explained.
However, Billing said the group still intends to operate within the initial $35 million investment budget despite this hiccups.
“We obviously have had to make some changes in the renovation plans, but unfortunately the changes have been to try and stay within that budget. This will affect the overall quality but the renovations will still be ahead of the competition,” he said.
Out of the three hotels that were under renovation only the Fairmont Mara Safari Club refurbishment is near complete.
Meanwhile, the East African hotel chain boss is of the view that increasing bed capacity in the tourism industry may not be the solution to meeting the country’s efforts of fully exploit the industry.
Billing is of the opinion that until the sector is able to achieve steady bed occupancy through the year, there is really no need for new investments.
He observed that the sector needs to emphasise on improving product quality, which he feels is still low compared to Kenya’s competitors in the industry.
“This country has one of the most diverse products in the world ranging from beach, cultural, mountaineering, and eco tourism among others,” Billing stressed.
Though still optimistic that the entry of the chain into the country was not a mistake, Billing revealed that their revenues had gone down by almost 50 percent after the violence that rocked the country earlier in the year.
“For us when we combine the unrest plus the delays to construction which meant that we do not have full inventories, we don’t have our full spaces, then we are talking about our revenues being cut by half,” he stated.
“2008 was planned to be our best year even with the assumption that in the first six months of the year, we were going to be under renovation and not have all our spaces available.”
During the last three years prior to the post poll skirmishes, the Kenya Tourism Board had been citing investment in increased bed capacity as the biggest challenge to growing the industry.