Motor dealer Simba set to rev up hotel industry
By Peter Muiruri | July 15th 2016
Simba Corporation has aggressively pursued a strategy to enter the hospitality market. Why get into the sector in light of recent dwindling tourism returns?
Kenyans have known the group through its vehicle dealership segment. But for any business to survive, it must grow its revenue base. Simba Corporation considered other diversification routes before settling on hospitality. The business owners have excelled in the motor vehicle industry and want to replicate this success in the hospitality industry.
You came from the United States in 2009 specifically to drive the group’s hospitality agenda...
I had already done it in the US where I ran several restaurants for two decades. In fact, at the height of my career there, I was running close to 20 different outlets mainly in Seattle. I know a thing or two about running a hospitality business.
Tell us about your experience in putting up Villa Rosa Kempinski
Being the group’s flagship project, everything had to be right. Remember we were coming from a totally different industry. Skeptics wondered if we were going to hack it. The family (Popat) believes that if you have to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all. I believe the results speak for themselves.
The Nairobi design borrows heavily from the Mediterranean region. What informed this?
The CEO and his wife lived in Portugal where they also ran a hotel. I can only guess that what you see here has a bit of their personal touch. Still, all the work you see in this hotel was done by Kenyans – skilled and non-skilled workers. Such ones have received vital skills they can now use in other avenues.
Kisumu’s Acacia Premier is the new kid on the block in the lakeside town. Why was Kisumu selected to host the new hotel?
Kenya’s middle-class are the people driving business in this country. Kisumu is emerging as one of the fastest growing urban centres in Kenya. Having a hotel in the lakeside city is a vote of confidence in the western part of the country that had lagged behind in the hospitality industry.
Kisumu is also your home, right?
Oh, yes. I was born in Kisumu as a third generation Kenyan. I spent my childhood playing in Kisumu neighbourhoods. It was safe. My parents were never scared of anything. I also did all my primary schooling in Kisumu before coming to the Nairobi School for secondary education.
Could that be the reason Kisumu governor named you the county’s global travel ambassador?
Maybe. But of course the role is to put Kisumu on the map and sell it as a preferred investment destination.
What next for Simba Hospitality?
We are embarking on growing both the Acacia Premier and Acacia Express brands one brick at a time. These will be hospitality units to be developed in the counties to cater for as many people in the country as possible. Not everyone may afford to come to our five-star hotels in the big cities. However, we can develop three-star hotels and give them five-star treatment in such facilities.
Do you foresee a lot of hospitality business in the counties?
Yes - as long as devolution is handled properly. We want to see both levels of government working together to improve on security and infrastructure. Then the private sector can come in and invest.
Any challenges in the running the hospitality outfit?
As any investor will tell you, starting a business is the easy part. Continuity is the biggest challenge. Mortality rate in business is quite high. For example, out of 10 restaurants that open in any given period, only two survive. Many start right then relax. There is no room for a complacent attitude or mediocrity. Not in the hotel industry where the current customer is a well travelled individual.
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