Financial Standard [East African Standard] February 17 - 23, 2004
By Tom Mogusu
Serena Tourism promotion Services has signed a thirty-year lease concession agree- ment with the Government of Uganda.
It has agreed to invest US$18 million (Sh1.4 billion) in refurbishment and upgrading of the former Nile Hotel, which will re-open in September 2005 as the Kampala Serena Hotel.
Announcing the investment, prince Amyn Aga Khan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), expressed the hope that "this initiative will advance tourism development throughout Uganda and act as a spur to other investors in the sector."
Prof. Peter Kasenene, Uganda’s Minister of State for Privatisation echoed the sentiment saying that "the industry needs the push from players like Serena, who have a longer term vision for the sector.
As such, completion of the concession does achieve our broader objective of strengthening the tourism industry."
The hotel is set to close for a year beginning September 30, 2004, for the planned renovation.
"When it reopens, 12 months later, it will have a new concept in design, style, comfort, and service," Prince Amyn said.
The hotel’s rooms will be increased from 85 to 146, and it has two new theme restaurants, a new bar, a new health club and sports facilities as well as upgraded conference and banqueting facilities.
Already, architects from the Symbion Group have presented a proposal that will draw on indigenous cultural elements.
Uganda’s flora, fauna and distinctive topographic features as well as aspects of its history constitute the inspiration of design themes for the new hotel.
Like other Serena properties around the world, the Kampala Serena will reflect and incorporate local artisanal traditions.
Considerably expanding the group’s East African presence, the Kampala Serena will also provide the capital with a much-needed modern business and conference facility of international standing. Serena’s properties in East Africa range from nine safari lodges and a luxury tented camp in Kenya and Tanzania to major hotels in Nairobi and Maputo and beach resorts in Mombasa and Zanzibar.
Distinguishing clearly the role-played by AKFED in tourism development from any personal investment by His Highness the Aga Khan, Prince Amyn set AKFED apart from "the regular or ‘normal’ commercial investor."
"We are more concerned about the prospects for better lives," he noted, "than we are about the bottom-line of pure profit."
AKFED, he said, works to stimulate entrepreneurship in the private sector and to create human and material capacity in developing societies in a way that will enable them to build capital for the future.
Whilst AKFED did look to generate profits "since it needs these to re-invest in other development initiatives," it could also invest "even if the expectations of profitability are beneath what would attract a commercial investor," said Prime Amyn.
He characterised AKFED’s mandate as "creating economic opportunity with a social conscience." Prince Amyn said "the Serena brand is thus about much more than simply creating a facility of international standing or generating foreign exchange or statutory revenue for the country."
"It is," he said, "about providing employment, training and professional development, it is about promoting indigenous architectural, artisanal and cultural traditions, drawing on the skills, the imagination, the heritage and the artistry of the local peoples, it is about being respectful of natural surroundings and the preservation of those surroundings."
He said only one out of the 2,000 employees of Serena’s 14 hotels and lodges in Kenya and Tanzania is an expatriate.
Prince Amyn used the occasion to distinguish AKFED’s mandate from those of the other institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network, which work in areas of social development and culture, but pointed out that all the Network agencies active in Uganda were committed to the country for the long-term.
Recalling long historical ties that the Ismaili community and the Aga Khan’s family had with Uganda, Prince Amyn cited the extend of the commitment of the Ismaili Imamat to Uganda.
"This steadfast engagement to Uganda is reflected," he said, "in our industrial sector and more recently, in the infrastructural sector."
He called the commitment to the tourism and hospitality industry represented by the investment to create the Kampala Serena Hoel, "a new beginning in a continuing story."