Eleven years ago, two brothers - Al Noor and Amyn Kanji - had a dream. They had travelled far and wide, and had seen how the rich and famous around the world made good use of marinas. Kanji had lived in Vancouver, Canada, for a decade and had keenly observed life on the city’s waterfront.
From France to Italy to the United Arab Emirates, the marina business boomed. It was time to export the luxury to Kenya.
The idea of creating the first marina on the East Coast of Africa was born.
Going by established marinas, the Kenyan model was on a smaller but luxurious scale.
Still, its functions would follow those of established giants such as the Marina Grande in Capri, Italy, where it costs more than Sh300,000 a berth for a day. The Italian marina has 300 such berths.
The Kenyan version was to have a specially designed harbour with moorings for 60 leisure yachts and small boats.
This marina could be used to fuel local and foreign boats, or lease space for mooring a boat when not in use.
In 2009, construction of the Sh5 billion English Point Marina began in Mombasa on a four-acre plot overlooking the Old Town and its key landmarks such as Fort Jesus.
Broadway Malyan, an architectural firm based in London, conceptualised the two brothers’ idea.
In early 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta officially opened English Point Marina. It consists of 96 apartments, eight penthouses and a 26-room hotel.
It is one of the few private projects granted the Vision 2030 Private Sector Flagship status.
“It has managed to distinguish itself as an exceptional contemporary real estate investment whose objectives are significant to the livelihoods of Kenyans as addressed within the Vision 2030 tenets,” stated a citation by Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat.
But while it was an architectural marvel with stunning views of Mombasa’s skyline, the business model was not in tandem with the project’s status. The luxury home sales slowed down and the marina business hardly took off.
It was time for a transformation.
Recently, we spoke to Sumeet Shandilya, the man charged with this makeover. Originally from Delhi, India, Shandilya joined Hotel English Point and Spa in May 2017 with a 15-year experience in hotel management.
Shandilya had worked with big brands in the industry such as Ritz-Carlton, Kempinski, and Jumeira Group. His job has taken him to the United Arab Emirates, United States, and as far as the Caiman Islands. With skills from established colleges like Cornell and Harvard, English Point could not have found a better person to turn around its fortunes.
His brief was clear: to create an environment for a full-fledged hotel by turning former residential-themed units into hotel accommodation.
In the previous business model, there were only 26 hotel rooms. To function as a hotel, Shandilya oversaw the creation of new public areas.
“To position the brand as a full-fledged hotel, we needed to increase the rooms from the original 26. We also had to close all the kitchenettes in the rooms since these would no longer function as private homes as earlier envisaged. Today, we have 100 rooms comprising executive, luxury and poolside suites as well as two penthouses,” he said.
In addition to the expansion of the room inventory, the hotel needed to create more space for conferences.
The existing one was too small to host larger delegations. Thus, the hotel’s signature sea-facing pier was renovated for this purpose.
The next campaign involved the marketing the project under a new pricing strategy.
“While the marina business was attractive as a new lifestyle in Kenya, there was little uptake of the residential homes mainly due to the high prices. It was not easy to sell all the penthouses at the price of about Sh200 million and Sh50 million for an apartment.
The Mombasa market was not ready for such figures. Any hotel guest can now use one of the two penthouses as accommodation,” said Shandilya.