Jimi Kariuki has been working as Sarova Hotels and Game Lodges’ managing director for the past three months. BRENDA KERUBO caught up with Kariuki. Below are the excerpts
QUESTION: What is your family’s interest in Sarova?
ANSWER: My family is an investor in Sarova Hotels. My father, John Kariuki, who is currently the Sarova Hotels Chairman, is a founder member of the group which started in Kenya in 1974.
Q: What has your journey to the top been like?
A: I joined Sarova Hotels in 1992 after I graduated from university as the marketing manager. I held this position for three years. My initial responsibility was to set-up a dedicated marketing function for the company.
In 1995 I was given additional responsibilities within the department and was promoted to group marketing and sales manager, a position I held for six years.
In 2001 I was appointed marketing and sales director, a position I held up to early this year when I was appointed group managing director by the board of directors.
Q: Can you paint a picture of what the hotel industry looked then compared to today?
A: It has grown in both the number of hotels, resorts and lodges that have opened around the country and in improvements in the standards of products and service delivered.
Back then there were less than a handful of international hospitality brands present in Kenya, today there are a lot more that have opened their doors, mainly in Nairobi.
This is great for the destination as it has raised the profile of the country, grown the capacity of quality hotel beds in Nairobi, as well as further raised the bar in terms of hotel product standards and service delivery. More international hotel brands have confirmed plans to open up in Kenya between now and 2020.
Q: Tourists arrival figures are projected to reach 1.8 million this year. How is Sarova positioning itself in relation to this?
A: Though tourism is still on the road to recovery, the growth in international tourist arrivals from key source markets in the last two years has been very encouraging.
The various incentives launched by the Government in 2015 have helped support the steady growth in tourism arrivals. The commencement of direct flights by Kenya Airways between Nairobi and New York City in October will give a major boost to the tourism sector from the North America market.
Infrastructure improvements such as the launch of the Madaraka Express rail service between Nairobi and Mombasa last year has been a major boost to domestic tourism at the Coast and in the safari destinations en route.
It is also great to see more and more Kenyans and Kenya residents traveling to different parts of the Country to experience the various attractions Kenya has to offer.
The recent easing of the Visa regime for citizens of African countries by President Uhuru Kenyatta also presents great opportunities to grow numbers from the region. To benefit from the continued growth in Kenya’s tourism Sarova Hotels will continue to invest in quality products and in marketing.
This year, our upgrades will range from soft upgrades to major renovations. We are at the last phase of our 54 guest rooms upgrade at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort and Spa in Mombasa.
This will see all 338 guest rooms upgraded. We have launched an eighth floor Club Lounge and The 1902 Club Lounge at Sarova Stanley in Nairobi to support the hotel’s club rooms product.
Q: Who are your mentors?
A: My mentors have always been my parents. My mother was a career teacher and so education was a top priority. Prior to entering into the hospitality business in 1974, my father was the sales manager in an international petroleum firm and in an international pharmaceuticals firm. Having worked very closely with him in my 26 years in Sarova, I have learnt a lot from him especially around self-discipline, integrity and hard work.