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Speech by Prince Amyn Mohammed at the Inauguration of the Zanzibar Serena Inn In the presence of Mowlana Hazar Imam-1997-03-15

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Event - 1997-03-15
Saturday, 1997, March 15
Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan

Your Excellency President Benjamin William Mkapa
Your Excellency President Salmin Amour
Your Highness (glancing towards Hazar Imam)
Your Excellencies
Honorable Ministers
Distinguished Guests

As Chairman of Tourism Promotion Services Zanzibar, the owner of Zanzibar Serena Inn, it is both an honour and a pleasure to welcome you here today for the official opening of the fifth Serena property in the United Republic to begin operations within the past twelve months.

The opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn now brings to five the number of high quality hotels and lodges owned and operated by Serena in the United Republic of Tanzania and to ten the number of such properties within the East African region. You will have noted that Serena operates five properties in the United Republic and five properties in Kenya. I am happy to tell you that this egalitarianism is purely fortuitous and not part of any kind of planning - strategic or otherwise.

The Zanzibar Serena Inn project originated as an extension of an initiative by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture - A.K.T.C. - one of the apex institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network who, encouraged by my brother, had undertaken to work with the Stone Town Authority to establish practical, commercially sensible and yet architecturally and culturally sensitive interventions to arrest the seemingly rapid decay of Zanzibar's Old Stone Town. Physical work on the Zanzibar Serena Inn actually began in March 1995 and the total project cost has been $7 million U.S of which $750,000 US was provided us by A.K.T.C in the form of a grant.

The two buildings constituting the Zanzibar Serena Inn are basically turn of the century. When T.P.S. commenced this project, these buildings were in a severe state of decay and were suffering from disuse if not virtual abandonment. The building on the right originally known as the Extelcomm building was constructed early this century and was originally a busy hub of the then Cable & Wireless Co. The building on the left, or straight ahead, known locally when we took it over as the Chinese Doctors' Residence, is an old Arab house of a distinctly earlier date that had been quite extensively transformed in the forties and the fifties when it was the residence of the British Consel. I am assured that it is well known that the often cantankerous explorer, David Livingstone, once stayed in the Chinese Doctors' Residence. But unfortunately he did not leave behind any personal possessions that we could use in the new interior decorations.

On the other hand, we did find, scattered around the debris in the Extelcomm building, some fascinating and beautifully crafted, antique hand-made brass telecommunications equipment. Resisting the temptation to make of it my own, instant, personal collection, I have had it put on permanent display in one of the Inn's public areas where all of you and the Inn's future clients can see it.

We have linked the old Extelcomm building to the Chinese Doctors' Residence by a colonnaded walkway based on the original lodge around the Chinese Doctors' Residence. Any new construction in the complex is either masked by the back-drop of the neighbouring building or hidden behind the original garden wall. These two buildings forming the Zanzibar Serena Inn, if in terms of architectural significance or merit, can perhaps be considered second level, are however historic, attractive and harmonious. Moreover, they are close to constituting a dominant of the visual fabric of Kelele Square since they form almost one entire side of that square.

Although the implementation of this project could perhaps have been effected more expeditiously and more economically had we simply demolished these two buildings, we decided that such an approach could not be justified and might even entail lasting or irrevocable damage to this area of the Stone Town. We did not feel it appropriate, moreover, that Serena's first major intervention in the Stone Town be a demolition exercise. Instead working continuously in collaboration with the Stone Town Authority and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, we have endeavoured to ensure that this development remains, in all ways, true to its essential self in absolute architectural harmony with the Stone Town and the benchmark of excellence for any future tourism developments considered by the Government.

In this endeavour we and our architectural consultants have not only extensively researched the history of these two buildings and their interiors, but before we even began design work had made careful surveys of all existing elements of architectural finishes of the two buildings, had identified any original or noteworthy features, had executed detailed drawings of all original elements in seriously poor states of affair, for instance doors and windows, so that they could be recreated and had visited almost all the major buildings in the Stone Town to catalogue elements as diverse as balustrades and skylight treatments that we could reproduce and adapt here. The same procedure was followed for the interior furnishings. Antiques were found and acquired, old tiles were copied abroad, antique furniture was copied here by local artisans, old prints and early photographs were collected, etcetera.

We trust that the finished product, both internally and externally, will thus provide to our foreign guests who stay here, an experience of every moment which is truly Zanzibari. In this regard I believe Governments and the private sector could seek means together of more effectively promoting and marketing cultural tourism to Zanzibar.

The Serena Group prides itself on its commitment to environmental issues and we perceive that our usual environmental impact analysis as part of the design process of the Inn. Not wishing to exarceberate the problems of the Stone Town's already overloaded infrastructure, particularly its sewage system, we have incorporated into the Inn's own systems a biodigester which will organically process our waste water producing clean water at the end of this process. The technicians responsible tell me that one can drink this water. But I have requested the staff to refrain from introducing such a unique offering to our clients. The water will instead be recycled to quench the thirst of our gardens. In the same vein we have unilaterally repaired the sea defence wall immediately in front of the property, at I may say a considerably added, not expected, cost and after what seemed to me interminable argumentation between the experts as to how the repairs could best be executed. I believe that is what they call constructive debate. We have also replaced the tennis court where earlier generations perspired in discomfort by a placid pool around which, I hope, future generations will perspire in comfort.

Finally we have assisted A.K.T.C. to renovate completely Kelele Square, its landscaping with indigenous species, its lighting based on the original models, its roads and its pedestrian sidewalks. Kelele Square is one of the largest green areas in the Stone Town and was showing sad signs of neglect. Today some $290,000 later, you see it revived and breathing again. Since the announcement was made by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development of its intention to develop quality tourism facilities on the island in the late 1980s, something in the region of 500 new hotel beds have been created by other developers in Zanzibar. We would like to think that in some manner we have thus assisted you in bringing to the attention of developers and of the world's tourism market, your unique tourism potential.

Certainly Tourism Promotion Services Zanzibar and Serena will do all we can to maximise the benefit that will accrue to Zanzibar and the United Republic in general from the $7 million investment. We have already created circa 100 new jobs here with only three expatriate employees. Local management will follow our policy to maximise employment and training facilities for local people. We would also seek to encourage local fishermen and farmers to provide us with the highest quality produce since this makes more commercial sense than having to import unnecessary foodstuffs.

The Zanzibar Serena Inn expects to attract, in its own right, in excess of 10,000 new tourists to the island in the first year of operation. With each tourist expected to spend at least two nights with us, we anticipate that our own hotel revenues will exceed $2 million. This does not take account of what these visitors may spend in shops and restaurants on the island nor on the various excursions opportunities that exist.

Finally, we will seek to ensure that economic benefits are spread as broadly as possible and will support local traders and of course that we pay our Government taxes. For tourism ventures such as this to be acceptable to both visitor and Zanzibar residents alike, and to develop the all-important repeat clientele, the tourism experience offered needs to be one of harmony, of safety, of ease of access, of warmth of welcome, of mutual respect and understanding. In this regard I would make a plea that further thought be given and action taken to facilitate communications - local, regional and international with Zanzibar, inter alia through closer association with international carriers. And that systems and procedures at the airport and elsewhere be reviewed and made more user-friendly for arriving and departing visitors.

We assume that some of Zanzibar Serena Inn's clients will come here as part of a beach holiday that includes a Kenyan stay. This raises the need for enhanced cooperation between Governments of this region in promoting inter-state tourism as has recently been pointed out by the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation.

My deep thanks go to the Zanzibari Government and in particular the Ministry for Tourism. With seed money originally and by your enabling conditions, you have given life to this project. Likewise my thanks to the International Finance Corporation and the Commonwealth Development Corporation, our partners from the outset who have afforded us understanding and support. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both the Bank of Tanzania and Tanzania Development Finance Corporation Limited. The Bank of Tanzania afforded this project the use of the debt conversion program without which facility it would have been difficult to make this project financially viable. TDFL, whilst not a shareholder, is a major lender to the project and I thank them for their support and encouragement.

Finally, I would like to thank our various consultants, the architect, project managers, structural engineers, sea-wall engineers, mechanical, electrical engineers, land-planning and landscaping experts, the contractor and of course the senior management and staff of the Tourism Promotion Services Group for their hard work in bringing this significant, perhaps even unique, product to full fruition. Thank you.

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