Hospitality industry a catalyst in national development

Six years ago, I came back home after living in the USA for 40 years to take over the hospitality portfolio for Simba Corporation.

At the time, the government was yet to implement a ranking system for hotels and there were a number of facilities claiming to be at a star level that was not representative.

We had international hotel brands in the country but they too were not a reflection of the global promise of quality and superiority as compared to similar properties. There was a general lack of commitment in the whole industry to operate hotels to meet international standards.

The capital, Nairobi, at the time only had two or three hotels that arguably met reasonable standards. They were doing well, but they did not have the same standards as those of the western world.

Over the last six years, Kenya has gone through a complete transformation. The new Constitution now gives the incentive to every Governor, to better the economic climate in their counties. Over time, we hope to see a more balanced business environment where all the counties are contributing to the GDP in equal measure.

In East Africa, Kenya is the prime location for multinationals, governmental organisations, embassies and NGO’s operating in the region. With the likes of Google, IBM, Oracle, GM and the World Headquarters for UNEP stationed in Kenya. With an amazing, talented, educated employee pool and a natural hospitable nature, we are best matched for this business.

According to the World Bank, Kenya is set to become one of the top five fastest-growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, with growth rates rising to between six and seven per cent over the next three years. The latest Kenya Economic Update projects the country’s growth to rise from 5.4 per cent in 2014 to up to seven per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Thanks to M-PESA, Kenya is on the global map for what is arguably the most innovative mobile solution so far. The Diaspora is also pouring in billions of shillings annually into the economy, displaying confidence that the opportunities and growth are here to stay. Living in a global village; we now have a well-travelled population that is experienced on how business is done outside.

What does this all mean for hospitality?

In 2015, Kenya successfully hosted major hospitality investment conferences. The offshoot of this is that all major hotel brands in the world now see Kenya as a major player in their Africa strategy. Today there are over 20 new hotels being developed in Nairobi alone. A lot of these will have an international brand name on them; and will come with their respective global standards.

At Simba, we foresaw this growth path 6 years ago and decided to be the benchmark in this industry to show there is a better way to build and operate.

We are proud to say that Olare Mara Kempinski is not only one of the best luxury tented camps in the country but it is also the number one rated property for guest service in the whole Kempinski system globally. The Villa Rosa Kempinski has been built as a true 5 star property and it is because of this that we have been privileged to have hosted many heads of states including the current United States President; Barack Obama.

We just launched our Acacia Hotel Brand in Kisumu and we had the privilege to host the first Governor of Kisumu County, Jack Ranguma and Mama Sarah Obama at the opening ceremony.

In light of the increasing competition and the rate at which international brands are setting foot in the market, the business is no longer for the light hearted. Today’s guest has very high expectations; he/she is well travelled and has experienced great service in equally great facilities.

We are pleased that the government is implementing the star rating system used globally. This will ensure the guest experience is not compromised by overrated facilities. In the able hands of Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, we believe the Tourism development agenda is only set to soar higher.

The World Travel Awards (WTA) recently voted Kenya “The Best safari destination in the World” crediting it to our tourism sector. From the great Wildebeest migration, pristine beaches, a series of outstanding Golf Courses and a big push towards eco-friendly facilities in our national parks, Kenya is indeed beautiful. We also have a variety of climate conditions that can be marketed for different experiences i.e. Mount Kenya, Lake Victoria, the Equator, Northern Kenya for semi dessert etc; we have the potential to be the ideal tourist location in Africa.

Another area of opportunity is Corporate, NGO and Government trade. Besides international corporates coming to Kenya for business, we have the ability to attract larger conferences and forums to Nairobi. Last year we hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit forum during President Obama’s visit as well the WTO conference.

Corporate conferencing is the new area in hospitality and there is need for a world class convention centre. KICC has already put us on the map, however as the industry grows we need better facilities to position Kenya as a world class conferencing destination.

Economically, it is worthwhile for the government to take this on as a priority project, as the multiplier effect to the economy is huge. Hospitality links to services from nearly all sectors in business from supply chain, to construction, farming and IT.

Local tourism presents an opportunity for county governments to note potential tourist sites and develop them to cater to the community while appealing to the regional population in Kenya. This would catalyse hotel development in counties as well as create a shift in hotel stay patterns.

Finally, all the above cannot happen if we as a country do not improve the way we operate. Infrastructure is still a challenge, without good roads, steady power, controlled development, a stable environment, ease of entry to do business and proper planning, we will not progress economically.

Kenya has great potential, let us not ruin the chance we have to be a major player in Africa’s growth.

(Khamisa, is a career hospitality development executive and is currently leading the Hospitality Division at Simba Corporation.)

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