Hospitality as a catalyst to growth

Monday March 21 2016

The view of a section of Nairobi City skyline on July 2, 2014. According to the World Bank, Kenya is set to become one of the top five fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The view of a section of Nairobi City skyline on July 2, 2014. According to the World Bank, Kenya is set to become one of the top five fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NAZIR KHAMISA

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.

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 past six years, Kenya has gone through a transformation. The Constitution now gives the incentive to every governor to improve the economic climate in his county.

In East Africa, Kenya is the prime location for multinationals, governmental organisations, embassies, and NGOs operating in the region. 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. Thanks to M-Pesa, Kenya is on the global map for what is arguably the most innovative mobile solution so far.

The diaspora is pouring billions of shillings annually into the economy, a sign of 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 in the world.

What does all this mean for hospitality? In 2015, Kenya successfully hosted a major hospitality investment conference. The offshoot of this is that major hotel brands in the world now see Kenya as a big player in their Africa strategy. There are now more than 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.

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 faint-hearted. Today’s guest has very high expectations because he/she is well travelled and has experienced good service in equally good facilities.

We are pleased that the government is implementing the star rating system used globally. This will ensure that the guest experience is not compromised by overrated facilities.

The World Travel Awards recently voted Kenya the best safari destination in the world, crediting it to our tourism. From the Great Wildebeest Migration, pristine beaches, 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 — Mount Kenya, Lake Victoria, the Equator, and northern Kenya’s semi-desert conditions. 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 as well as the World Trade Organisation conference. Corporate conferencing is the new field in hospitality and there is a need for world-class convention centres.

The Kenyatta International Convention Centre 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 develop potential tourist sites to cater for 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.

All the above cannot happen if we 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 to become a major player in Africa’s growth.

Mr Khamisa leads the hospitality division at Simba Corporation. [email protected]