Why local hotel brands are in expansion frenzy

The new Emara Hotel next to Ole Sereni
NAIROBI, KENYA: Radisson Blu, Kempinski, Movenpick, Best Western and Marriott are some of the big boys that have become household names in Kenya.

Equally noticeable too is how some of the country’s homegrown establishments have engaged the top gear in their quest to match the global stars.

At the junction of Southern Bypass and Mombasa Road is a new 10-floor edifice with a blue façade by the name Emara. Emara, Maasai for a giraffe is Sh2 billion hotel to complement the adjacent Ole Sereni Hotel. 

The catchy marketing brochure terms Emara as the “epitome of luxury and comfort with a perfect blend of relaxed atmosphere” with 148 rooms, 18 apartments and a presidential suite.

“Nairobi has become a meeting and conference hub in the region. Any hotel without adequate and modern meeting facilities will lose out. The new business traveler wants a seamless work experience that sometimes requires the construction of new facilities altogether,” says Karl Hala, Ole Sereni’s general manager.

At Sarova Hotels and Resorts, the largest indigenous collection of hotels in East Africa, work is underway to upgrade and erect new infrastructure at the group’s signature brand, Sarova Panafric in Nairobi.

The works will go beyond the renovation of existing rooms to the construction of new ones, a 300-slot car park and the construction of a new conference centre with a capacity for 600 people.   

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Jimi Kariuki, Sarova Hotels managing director says the exercise is part of the company’s strategic plan of rejuvenating the properties under the brand to “refreshing African hospitality.”

Young, leisure -savvy clients

Kariuki says current and future trends in hospitality will be driven not just by hotel stay and dining experiences but by a trendier, young, and leisure-savvy demography.

“This refurbishment will see the re-positioning of the hotel into an elegant and luxurious property with the contemporary African interiors showcasing an imaginative use of colours, design, artwork, space and materials. A younger, trendier and savvier generation of customers has emerged, and we, therefore, have to adopt new strategies and tactics to reach, continually engage and serve this market,” says Kariuki.

The program will be carried out in two phases and will see a complete redesign of 87 guest rooms in the initial phase of 18 months. Phasing the work will ensure the hotel remains open for business throughout the project.

Visitors to the nearby Nairobi Serena Hotel will not fail to notice the new wing that opened recently.

The hotel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World increased room inventory from 183 to 199. The extensive works included the addition of an executive lounge on the seventh floor with spectacular views of the city’s skyline. In order to boost its meeting and conferencing business, the hotel has a new acoustic ballroom with a capacity to hold 450 people.

In addition to the new floor, works included the construction of a new ballroom, a parking silo for 120 cars, a new executive lounge, a new speciality restaurant, a redesigned front area and refitted back of house areas. Existing rooms were reconfigured and upgraded.

“We are pleased to see the evolution of the hotel to support the ever-changing needs of our guests. Enhancing of the Pan-African design features, coupled with modern amenities demonstrates our commitment to meet the expectations of our clients,” says Mahmud Jan Mohamed, managing director, Serena Hotels.

Sankara Hotel, located at the heart of Westlands is said to “boast of quintessential Kenyan charm and hospitality” and “carefully curated modern African art.” The recent member to join Autograph Collection, Marriott International’s collection of independent hotels recently unveiled a wing with the newest presidential suite in town.

The wing situated on the seventh floor also consists of a series of new stylish Sankara Signature Rooms that combine “simple sophistication and relaxed refinement.”

Krishna Unni, Sankara Hotel and Resorts group general manager says the new development is in step with the growing demands from consumers and their desire for unique and quality experiences.

“Our focus was excellence, from the selection of materials to the final finishes. We wanted to capture the hotel’s personality with signature elements that showcase warmth and elegance,” he says.

Eye on future projections

Mike Macharia, Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, says the expansions and renovations by local brands is part of long-term strategies.

“Most of the hotels looked at future projections and want to be ready with new products. In any case, a number of these hotels were built years ago and are due for makeovers,” he says.

However, Macharia says these hotels also want to keep up with hospitality trends and match their facilities with the incoming giants.

“Let us not forget that it is the success of the local brands that made the international players take a keen interest in the Kenyan market. In fact, they are responsible for the entry of global brands to the market. If they (local brands) were making money, then there was more to go around,” he says.

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