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Why going green works for us

REAL ESTATE
By Kevin Oguoko | July 16th 2015

Congratulations on your win at the World Travel Awards where Serena was declared Africa’s Leading Green Hotel and Kenya’s Leading Hotel.

Thank you. The win is gratifying, coming at a time when Nairobi has been witnessing proliferation of big hotels. In the last five years, a total of five big hotels have come up in the city.

What do you suppose tipped the scales to your advantage?

If you look at the other hotels, there is a contemporary theme in their design. We are very ‘green’ in our approach.

We try to preserve the environment and incorporate the culture around us into the design of our (Serena) hotels.

If you go to other countries, especially in Europe, most of five star hotels have changed very little over the decades. Because of strict building codes, the exteriors are preserved to reflect the way of life and tradition of the town.

Why so much emphasis on ‘green’ technology?

The Aksum Restaurant, where we are seated (during the interview), has Ethiopian design, with umbrellas patched from the roof. Umbrellas are ceremonial in the Ethiopian culture.

There is a certain level of comfort and tranquility in such an authentic environment. Nairobi Serena is built around the vegetation and trees that were found on site. Some building designs have had to be altered to avoid cutting of the trees and preserve the environment.

Incorporating green technology in a project can be very expensive...

It is expensive. In the long-term, the benefits are tangible. But we are fortunate to have had a number of financial partners and agencies who have been more than willing to invest in our “green projects”.

Are they also part of the shareholders of Serena Hotels?

No. They do not own any share equity. As soon as they get their money back under the agreed terms, they exit and move on to other projects.

Conservation approaches are meant to be holistic in nature and incorporate the people making part of the environment. How have you fared on this?

It was an act of Parliament for the government to hold a stake in every project initiated by a foreigner.

During the Kibaki era when the government was selling off its stake in public corporations, His Highness the Aga Khan decided not to buy back the stake but instead float it on the Nairobi Securities Exchange to allow other Kenyans to be part of Serena Hotels by owning shares.

We are currently the only publicly-traded tourism promotion entity in Kenya.

What infrastructure is especially dedicated to the business traveller?

The hotel business is like a computer. The hardware can’t come without the software. It involves making sure every guest comes out of the place with a smile. Basic infrastructure such wireless connection to the Internet and cable TV is vital in a business hotel. That is among the first things my guests ask for.

They want to stay in a non-intrusive environment. The service has to be up to international standards. The coffee or tea has to be just right.

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