We had 60 rooms before but we closed 30 and cut staff by 60%, significantly reducing our operation costs. Half of the rooms have been converted into private pods – a lounge setup for five pax maximum, which provides safe space for individuals who want to meet and mingle in few numbers whilst observing the pandemic regulations. We waived the room rates for these and only purchase of food and beverages to a minimum total spend of Sh6, 000 is required
BY NBM WRITER
In December 2019, Deli (Delishoi) Taleng’o was ebullient to watch with pride as their booming hospitality business closed the festive season on a high. This was not only encouraging but also tempting as the basis for considering grater and grandeur New Year plans for their Seasons group of Hotels.
As commercial director of their hospitality outfit which consists of four hotels across 3 Counties; Seasons Elementaita Country Lodge, Seasons Mara Sun Lodge, Seasons Narok Hotel and Seasons Airport hotel, she set in place structures in 2019 to scale up and implement business growth strategies including hiring more staff, streamlining operational processes and refurbishing some units as projections for 2020 and beyond were favorable.
Things would assume a worrying trajectory when tales of a strange disease started filtering from Wuhan China to the world accompanied by massive social upheavals and economic hemorrhage. The gloom and doom identified as Covid-19 soon perched in Kenya by March 2020.
The disease’s unwelcome arrival landed with severe business mayhem especially to the hospitality industry, which received the harshest treatment as the Government moved to implement measures, most of them adversarial to the industry to combat the pandemic. These included closure of international borders, suspension of flights in and out of the country, cessation of key towns like Nairobi and Mombasa, imposition of curfews and prohibition of gatherings. This was obviously a serious threat to the existence of the Seasons brand of hotels, an enterprise whose foundation was laid on firm hospitality grounds.
“The threat was quick and immediate – no one had time to prepare for the level of hemorrhaging the industry was suddenly facing. Survival would be pegged on quick, flexible and creative actions – most of which we undertook within the first months of the pandemic,’’ she reveals.
Some of the measures adopted include completely ceasing operations in two units – Seasons Elementaita Country Lodge and Seasons Mara Sun Lodge and releasing staff on unpaid leave with a few remaining in key departments for security, housekeeping, and front office for future bookings.
Actions for the two units that have remained open are reduction of hierarchy and combining job roles thus reducing staff complement, reducing/eliminating unnecessary fixed costs and most importantly, implementing a survival strategy.
“No one particular strategy is correct or fits all – all hospitality leaders have to think outside the box in this unprecedented times. No historical information or data is available to fall back on or refer to. Only those who are inventive, can adopt quickly and employ austerity can survive,” she says.
In one of the two remaining open units, Seasons Airport Hotel, which relied heavily on airline transit business, creativity would be the only way to tackle the dropped occupancy rates. It is along these lines that she came up with a novel concept, which not only works well for social distancing in compliance with Covid-19 protocols but also provides the badly required cash flow.
“We had 60 rooms before at the hotel but we closed 30 and reduced staff by 60%. This significantly reduced our operation costs. Of the 30 rooms, half have been converted to private pods – a lounge set up for five pax maximum, which provides safe space for individuals who want to meet and mingle in few numbers whilst observing the regulations laid out by the Government. Room rates for these have been waived and only purchase of food and beverages to a minimum total spend of Sh6, 000 is required,” she says, adding that the rest of the rooms cater to clientele who would want peace and privacy especially now that many are working from home in the neighboring estates such as the expansive Nyayo and Simba Villas. This, with free wi-fi, provides refuge from interference, for example, of children who are also at home with the closure of schools.The enterprising Deli says that for the few operational rooms, the rates have been restructured to accommodate hourly rates as opposed to the previous conventional hotel approach. Previously, a single room went for Sh5, 500 for bed and breakfast but this has been reduced to Sh4, 200. The new structure now provides for 1-6 hours rate of Sh1, 500 for single occupancy and Sh2, 000 for double occupancy.
“A lady who had just had a baby and wanted resting place for the day away from the house chaos is an example of our new clientele, courtesy of the novel concept”, she proudly reports.
The seasons dream began manifestation in 2001 with the registration of Seasons Restaurants and Hotels Limited. The Company’s main goal and vision was to grow indigenously in the hospitality space through exceptional Food & Beverage service and experience.The company’s vision was conceptualized by Deli’s father and also the Founder and CEO Mr Daniel Taleng’o Ole Kiptunen who took a leap from high flying career in various Airlines including his last as Kenya Airways Airport Manager.
Mr Kiptunen always had his heart in hospitality and decided to take the plunge with the first restaurant in Doonholm Nairobi called Mima Centre in 1999. This ran for a year or so and opened doors for expansion to a larger space, still within Doonholm christened Seasons Chomabase Restaurant, a trendsetter offering great music and food that was unprecedented at that time in the area. The dream continued to nudge Mr Kiptunen who acquired property in Embakasi and set up a shopping complex and another restaurant – Leisure Club and Restaurant.At this juncture, Mr Kiptunen saw an opportunity to explore the Nairobi CBD where he began the Seasons Heritage Restaurant along Banda Street in 2002. Offering unique food presentation; quick buffet lunches, great ambience and music, Seasons was able to capture a large Market share and quickly saw opening of its Seasons down town restaurant at Old Mutual Building in 2003. This turned out to be an anchor branch with consistent profitability over a span of over 10 years.
In 2004, Mr. Kiptunen opened the last restaurant at Uchumi House – Seasons Mega Restaurant. The unique food, service and entertainment style of the Seasons carried along all the restaurants with tweaks to cater to different type of clientele that patronized each branch.
In 2005, Mr Kiptunen had felt challenged to explore new territories within the hospitality sector. He had already set up a small Lodge in the 90s in his hometown in Kilgoris – Seasons Framers Lodge with 40 rooms, and he felt this was the right time to grow the Hotels end of the business.With a concrete plan and savings from the successful restaurants, he built and completed Seasons Narok Hotel in 2005; a 53 Room transit and MICE hotel in Narok town. This was a success with transit customers to neighboring counties as well as the Maasai Mara game reserve. It is also the go to hotel for all conferences and meetings in Narok town.
As this was ongoing, he explored the Naivasha – Nakuru region. He noted that Elementaita, which lies between the two towns, was unexplored and had very few hotels. He embarked on purchasing small parcels of land and combining them to have one large parcel – enough to build the ultimate masterpiece: Seasons Elementaita Country Lodge with 94 rooms that was completed in 2009. This has been a successful flagship branch of the Seasons Group. Designed with breathtaking views of Lake Elementaitain mind, the lodge provides for natural walks, bird watching and road drives to the Flamingo filled Lake Nakuru, which favorably caters to the leisure market as well.
Mr Kiptunen had an itch to build closer home and be part of the spectacle that is Maasai Mara. With this vision, he built and completed Seasons Mara Sun lodge in May 2013 with 32 Rooms; a unique Lodge perched on the Oloololo escarpment overlooking the Maasai Mara. The manyatta themed facility provides the panoramic view of Masai Mara and other scenic views of the alluring Masai Mara game reserve.
Seasons Airport Hotel
In 2014- he felt time was ripe to build in Embakasi and cater to the Transit clients; JKIA was expanding and Nairobi increasingly growing as the hub for a lot of transit flights. He embarked on building Seasons Airport Hotel, which was completed in April 2015 with 60 Rooms.
“The Vision that is Seasons is solely built on the need to have a brand that is built, operated and run by the local people. The loyalty and dedication of staff has seen the brand grow to lengths and indeed, it shall continue to do so for generations to come,” affirms an optimistic Deli.
This is the spirit that COVID 19 attempted to crush with heavy blows by disrupting the hospitality fabric: social gathering. Now that travelers to and from the airport are no more and with additional responsibility of holding the other closed units, a season of creativity is indeed required to navigate through the turbulent period of Covid-19 assault.
“Perhaps we will make profits after two years. For now, breaking even and survival are our key goals”, says Deli.