Kigali Marriott Hotel joins a growing number of International chains setting shop in Rwanda. The New Times’ Minnie Karanja, in an exclusive interview with Peter Mukulu, Kigali Marriott’s Director of Sales and Marketing, had the opportunity to find out what exactly the Hotel has to offer the Rwandan hospitality industry.
Kigali Marriott is the 1st Marriott property in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means a lot. What inspired the Marriott to come to Rwanda?
Our hotel represents Marriott’s entry into Rwanda, and Marriott Hotels’ first property in sub Saharan Africa, an exciting addition to Marriott Hotels’ growing portfolio of hotels in capital cities around the world.
Marriott’s vision is to be the world’s favourite travel company. This means we need to have a presence in key destination cities around the world. More than half of Marriott’s new hotels will be located in emerging markets, where tourism is a major driver of job creation and economic growth.
Within Middle East and Africa, we are targeting to have over 200 properties by 2020. Having said that, there are several factors to consider when looking for a destination such as investor willingness to invest in the physical asset, market potential, in-bound and out-bound traffic and ease of doing business.
Rwanda was an interesting proposition for us given the upward trajectory on the macro front, good governance, security, great policies for doing business and the fact that it is a growing MICE and conference destination.
We’re excited about having the first ground-up Marriott hotel in Sub-Saharan Africa in the heart of Kigali. We believe that Rwanda is a promising tourism destination supported by the international conferences the destination is attracting.
What do you think about the competition here? How has the Marriott strategically positioned itself to compete?
Let me begin by acknowledging that competition is good both for our industry and our clients. This hotel is comparable to any Marriott in the world - it is a great product. For a long time, we have only had one five-star hotel in Kigali but now Kigali Marriott presents an attractive option to clients.
Our entry into Rwanda means we need to deliver on the Marriott promise and experience that our clients are accustomed to and expect at every Marriott property around the world.
Some of our unique selling propositions include but are not limited to:
1. Marriott Rewards
Award winning loyalty programme with over 56 million members; free enrollment for anyone willing to participate. Members earn points when they travel and stay at any of our hotels worldwide. Our loyalty programme is crafted to provide convenience in earning and redeeming points.
2. Technological innovation:
Our goal is to reinvent the travel experience through technology. We deliver on this promise through our systems and mobile applications that allows check in and check out at your convenience. In addition, we have a meeting service application (MSA) which enables planners to manage events and meetings from their mobile phones or tablet, e.g. you can update the number of delegates attending an event or change the timings for a coffee break.
3. Unique food & beverage offering; a blend of food and beverage outlets that caters to both local and international cuisine, headlined by Ziko Grill: offering the best burgers and brochettes in town complemented by exceptional service.
Soko showcases international cuisine, a dramatic all-day dining experience with live cooking stations for international favorites such as pasta, pizza, classic desserts and an extensive cheese selection.
Iriba bar is divided into flexible zones where guests can socialise, connect, relax, have a light meal or conduct a business meeting. It transitions from a coffee and pastry station during the day to wines & cocktails fare in the evening.
4. Our exceptional associates: One of our core values is putting people first, we believe that our staff are our greatest asset in delivering the Marriott experience. We invest in our people through training, empowerment, coaching and creating opportunities for growth globally.
Rwanda is seeking to establish itself as a quality MICE hub and destination. In line with this, what more is the Marriott Hotel offering in Rwanda?
By opening its first property in Rwanda, it’s a vote of confidence in the destination and its potential for growth.
The Marriott brand is easily recognisable from the key source markets for Rwanda. We will support Rwanda’s MICE segment through our Global Sales offices as well as internal sales channels where we receive enquiries from people who have hosted events with Marriott in other destinations.
This year, in September, we are hosting an incentive trip for our Top Sales performers in the region to visit Rwanda. It is not only a chance for them to visit and enjoy such an amazing country but we hope that they will sell Rwanda as a conference and tourism destination once they return to their respective work stations.
We are exploring opportunities to partner with regional airlines to host Tour Operators from the region to visit Rwanda so that they too can sell Rwanda as a tourist destination to their clients.
How will the Marriott Hotel play a role in alleviating youth unemployment?
Unemployment is a global challenge and we believe that every organisation has a responsibility to participate in finding sustainable solutions to alleviate the problem.
Marriott International has long been involved in corporate social responsibility projects world-wide that evolve around five pillars: Environment, Vitality of Children, Shelter and Food, Ready for Work, and Empowering Diversity. The latter two have been of particular priority to the hotel group’s Middle East and Africa region, resulting in the company proactively seeking out commendable initiatives across the region that are both inspirational and results-oriented.
Since 2012, Marriott International has collaborated with Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda to offer young women aged 18 to 30 the opportunity to train and work at its Dubai and Doha properties. The opening of Kigali Marriott will see these remarkable students return to their native Rwanda as supervisors and managers at the property.
Marriott International plans to extend the training model currently utilised by the Akilah Institute for Women across other locations in Africa, in order to meet the needs of its growing portfolio of hotels in the region.
You have mentioned that you have been in partnership with Akilah Institute for Women for the past four years, now that you have a presence in Rwanda are we more likely to see Marriott Hotel partnering with other local institutions to build the needed capacity for the hospitality industry?
We are open to explore opportunities to promote growth of the hospitality talent pool. We are currently providing internships to students from Bridge2Rwanda and we are on the lookout for more partnerships.
Marriott is known for it’s vibrant Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives that impact communities around it. Tell us more about it.
“The Spirit to serve programme” is an integral part of Marriott culture, it gives our associates the opportunity to serve in their local communities. This is an opportunity for associates at Kigali Marriott to join together and give back to the community.
Spirit to serve programme has proven to be a great platform for launching environmental initiatives, broadening the base of support for environmental programmes, and involving associates in volunteer activities. It gives a human face to environmental issues, empowering people to become active, and promoting an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental concerns.
Recently as part of our “Spirit to Serve” programme, the Kigali Marriott Hotel Executive team participated in Umuganda within Kanyinya Sector community (in Kigali) to plant 500 trees as well as spending time with the community to understand their needs and challenges.
Some of our immediate ‘Spirit to Serve’ events include organising a charity walk, blood donation drive and participating in street cleaning programme together with Kigali City cleaners.
What is your parting shot?
Marriott could not have chosen a better destination for its first property in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country holds a lot of promise and this marks the beginning of an exciting journey for the hospitality sector. Our presence here sets the stage for making travel brilliant.