How a group’s serious appetite for expansion and diversification is paying off

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Anthony Havelock (Head of Agency, Knight Frank), Vikram Khettry (CEO Azure Hospitality), Vishal Pindoria (Developer) & Essam Sakr (Chief Operating Officer-Choppies)

By Victor ADAR

In service industry, brand is built based on customers’ experiences. As always the case, if a name is not achieving expectations of the people behind it, or the lot that it is expected to appeal to, a fresh start is usually the best solution.

It is because of such dynamics that in September 2016 Royal Orchid rebranded its hotel investments to Azure Hospitality Group in order to get a bigger piece of the pie.

According to Vikram Khettry, chief executive of the fresh brand, the need to place emphasis on a new name came at a time when there is very little an Indian brand can do in a local market like Kenya or even in Africa. What Khettry realised is that some international brands can’t do well locally especially in a market that is crowded.

He knows too well that an Indian brand was basically not delivering a host of benefits estimating its reach to be about 30% to India when 70% of their target market is East Africa and Africa as a whole apart from the usual foreign visitors who might visit once in a while. In this era of cutthroat competition should you fail to act soon enough as far as a brand is concerned, even your serious appetite for investing would not go far.

“So we pooled ourselves and created a team of six,” he says. “We realised that if we are ready to do a good job ourselves why not build our own brand and grow it. That’s when we said that we would like to form a corporate structure because as you grow you need a full team that helps you grow; a group to help you bring your standard and your vision in place.”

Strategies to ensure that the fire keeps burning meant that Mr Khettry as well as other individuals who were in operations department had to came together to form management that would see the creation of divisions such as finance, human resources, head of marketing, chief operations as well as the position of chief executive which he holds.

He confidently points out that the reality is that a fresh name for the hotel group has opened up more lucrative opportunities. The group is expanding big time currently operating two other brands in the country – Azure Hotel Nairobi in Westlands and Azure Mara Haven in the Maasai Mara. Another greatest achievement is Signature Mall, which is expected to generate direct employment for over 500 people and approximately 3,000 indirect jobs when it opens around May 2018.

The top guy believes that the mixed-use nature of the latest shopping mall will offer an ideal location for another kid on the block, Azure Best Western, which will occupy the two upper floors of the Signature Mall, and will have 70 fully furnished rooms and serviced apartments to suit the requirements of contemporary business and leisure travellers. The three-star hotel will be managed by a franchisee of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Azure Best Western.

While recognising the urban population and businesses around the mall as part of integral target market, of importance, he says is the proximity of their new development to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). In addition, the mall will serve the three-star hotel’s clientele and transit shoppers on Mombasa Road, together with transport hubs such as the JKIA and the newly opened SGR Nairobi terminus. The main target is the fast-growing population and rich demographics of Syokimau, Mlolongo, Athi River and Kitengela areas in Machakos and Kajiado counties.

Khettry says: “We would like to build and manage ten hotels. So this will be our third edition in our twelve months. We are currently talking to hotel owners in Nairobi, Machakos… also looking at a very good project in Naivasha; we want to have presence in Naivasha, Nakuru, and Kisumu. These are some of the markets we would like to focus on. We want to come in to fill the gap.”

He believes that hospitality will remain one of the most important sectors thanks to the development plans that counties have – counties are known to invite investors to set up their businesses. These businesses require people to travel and stay in quality accommodation. That’s where the group sees business sense.

This ambitious chief executive is still thirsty for more investment options saying that the benefits of diversification and expansion are huge. Apart from hospitality and real estate development, he is managing a company that is not only eyeing health but also education sector. He cites a huge number of individuals who go to India for what he calls “health farm” which is a combination of Yoga.

Another unique venture that the group is eying is working out something for the older lot, where elderly citizens of this country, or from any other place can come and live a very good life.

“Any business reaches a tipping point. And I think we have reached that tipping point; when we can only grow so much and not exponentially and that diversification come into play at that point in time. Right now our focus is to get this facility (referring to Signature Mall) running and becoming successful, but offering something for the elderly is also another future that we are looking at,” he says.