Sanjiv Malhotra is vp of Kempinski Hotels East Africa where he oversees five very different properties with two more due to open in the next two years. He talks about running a chain of hotels which ranges from seaside resorts and a game lodge to a city centre properties
|The sun sets over the Bilila Lodge Kempinski|
One of the first things Sanjiv Malhotra will stress about his portfolio of hotels is that they all have very different markets. It is not a range of city centre hotels top heavy with business travellers nor a group of leisure properties patronised by tourists and the - nowadays - occasional guest on an incentive trip.
Instead it is a mix which has even beguiled Mr Malhotra. At the age of 45 and after 28 years with Oberoi Hotels in India, the UK, Austria and finally Egypt, he got to thinking what he would like to do for the next 15 years.
The answer was as vp for Kempinski Hotels East Africa. In January this year, he swapped his post as executive vp Oberoi Hotels Egypt where he ran three hotels, four ships and several restaurants for a chain of hotels spread over thousands of miles and three countries of East Africa.
Among these are the three completely different properties in Tanzania: the hotel in the capital of Dar Es Salaam, where he is also general manager, the Zamani Resort in Zanzibar where, Mr Malhotra said, the "turquoise Arabian Sea wraps itself around East Africa", and the recently opened Bilila Lodge in the vast and magnificent Serengeti Park.
The other properties are the Djibouti Palace in the city state and port in the Horn of Africa and the Soma Bay on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Next year Kempinski is opening a new 180-room boutique hotel on the Nile in Cairo, next to the British Embassy, and then, probably in 2011, a new hotel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Only the Dar es Salaam property, in the commercial hub of the city, can be described fully as a business travellers' hotel. "It's an iconic 1950s building converted into a hotel in 2003," Mr Malhotra said. "It's very much a downtown corporate hotel with guests form banking, mining, oil, finance and restructuring.
"We get people for UN organisations and other agencies. We are also the choice hotel for State house and have had had seven or eight presidential visits this year."
The hotel, with 180 rooms, is also becoming a focal point for Tanzania's growing meetings industry. In November the capital is due to host in its International Conference Centre some 2,000 delegates to the African Diaspora. This is a conference of people who live outside the continent but have their roots there.
Such a big event will mean a full house and good business for the "Kili" as it is known locally. Business has declined at the hotel but the fall, as in other African countries, has been mostly in single digits. "This is very encouraging but it has a lot to do with the fact that Africa was not so integrated with the rest of the world and was far from saturated," Mr Malhotra said.
"There is so much more growth possible here, in education, health, agriculture. It has previously been more leisure than business but that balance is changing now."
Mr Malhotra said that much of the business at Dar es Salaam was repeat with some business travellers arriving every three or four months. Many will use the chance of their visit to Tanzania to take in a beach break in Zanzibar or go wild game spotting in the Serengeti at Bilila Lodge.
While the Djibouti Palace has a 50/50 balance between business and leisure guests - a mix of tourists to see the salt lakes or go diving and those in the defence industries - he thinks the new Cairo property will be predominantly for the business traveller.
Mr Malhotra comes from Ooty in Southern India where his family had tea and coffee plantations. But he left this assured existence at the age of 18 to join the hotel business. "I suppose it was something that was ingrained in the early days. I happily entered into the industry and have done nothing else.
The Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski in Dar es Salaam
"I think I became betrothed to the hotel business. It was a great part of my life with Oberoi. It was mainly on the leisure side although now I am doing more on the corporate side."
He has quickly settled into life East Africa, especially Tanzania. "It's a very stable country with no religious strife. It's a harmonious place so a lot of organisations are happy to fund projects. I am blessed to be here. You can help create magic moments for people, like balloon safaris over the Serengeti, so they go away with wonderful memories. It is a joy to help make these memories."