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‘Sheraton is business friendly, and very involved with the community’

Interview - September 12, 2014
The PM Communications team interviewed Mr. Ian Duncan, General Manager of Sheraton Kampala, and asked him about the features that make Sheraton Kampala unique, and the changes the hotel underwent since he became General Manager. Mr. Duncan argued that Sheraton Kampala is business-friendly, is offers value for money, and is strategically located in the city of Kampala. He also spoke about the amenities the hotel offers to business people, and its remarkable reputation as an ideal place for conferences and business events.
What was the main reason that brought you to Uganda?

The challenge of the job. I didn’t work with Sheraton before, this is a franchise operation. It is owned and operated by Constellation Hospitality in our head office in Dubai. The CEO of the company happened to be someone who I knew. In fact, we worked together in Dubai 30 years ago. I was General Manager of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and he was my director of sales and marketing.

How has your experience been in these 8 months? How did you see the hotel at the beginning, and how is the hotel now?

Through the managing team, we tried to make positive changes our guests would enjoy. We tried to make ourselves friendly, offer value for money, and being affordable to travelers and businessmen. We wanted guests to enjoy the atmosphere of the hotel. For those reasons, we tried to work on the atmosphere and also on food and beverages. We now have a new chef, producing very nice food, and comments have improved dramatically. The business has improved a lot.

We still have got a lot of things to do. Our team will start a renovation program early next year, and funds will come from the hotel’s operation. We are hoping that our business is sufficient to fund the renovation program, hopefully starting in some of the guest rooms. There is much to be done, and reforms will last about 4 years. It is an old hotel; it is about 46 years old. Hotels that old have to be reformed on a regular basis.

We have a fantastic location in the middle of the city, so we are strategically located next to the most important companies and public institutions. People feel very safe here, and they complement us for our security. They don’t mind the inconvenience of the checking at the gates, or the baggage scanners. 

Are most costumers businessmen or tourists?

This is very much a business hotel. We’d like to have a better balance of business and tourism, but we don’t. It is very popular for business people. The country is very aware of the need to diversify the product so there is more occupancy at the weekends. There are many beautiful places nearby. There is much to see, and Uganda is a wonderful country. The people are extremely warm and friendly. We get comments on our friendly staff, and we are very proud of that. Nevertheless, we do need the government to pet start ideas for the city. The number of tourists coming to the country is small, and there is huge potential. The Entebbe Kampala expressway would certainly help a lot. We are 40 minutes away from the airport. There is a new golf court, and with a highway, it will take 10 minutes to get there. They will also build a resort hotel near the golf court; so the sooner the highway is built, the better. 

One aspect we discussed with ministers and the State House was turning Kampala into a conference hub. Here, they have hosted the Commonwealth Head of States Meeting in 2007, and there are also art exhibitions, mining conferences and much more.

If we build a nice convention center, and start competing with Nairobi and other regional centers, it will be a good way to fill the city in weekends. We should invest in that as soon as possible.

Taking into account that most of your clients are business people, how do you compete with other business-oriented hotels? What makes this hotel unique?

I like to think that management is a factor. We give people a sense of confidence that their business is in good hands. We have a global connection with the 420 Sheraton hotels around the world. We are also members of Starwood, and it has the best loyalty program in the hospitality industry. It is amazing the number of people they manage to convert to the loyalty program. Starwood is 1200 hotels around the world, in 9 branches. That level of professionalism gives people the confidence to put their businesses in good hands. Security is also a selling point. When people walk in this hotel, they feel it alive, and the staff makes that.
I would like to know more about your facilities. Can you elaborate on that?

We have on the property up to 9 meeting rooms, which cater for between 10 and 600 people. We have been known to be the place for conferences because we offer very professional services. However, over the years, people’s demands have gone up. We, because of structural barriers, cannot stand numbers of over 600 people. There are plans in place to have that sorted out. We have plans for the expansion of meeting rooms. On top of that, we offer outdoor facilities. We host weddings, parties, and functions, because we have got 9 acres of a beautiful botanical garden. Functions can be up to 1000 people. When it comes to accommodation, we have 236 rooms. When we talk about business, we can actually accommodate different kind of businessmen in different suites. We offer services for a wide range of people. We are also flexible, and we listen to the costumer and tailor our services to suit his needs. We have 30 suites in the top suites, 3 presidential suites, the club lounge, and amenities that make us unique. People like to come here to do their business. We have 3 restaurants, a swimming pool in which we sell food, a gym, sauna, steam bath, massages, aerobics, and tennis courts. Sometimes, we do open events in which we incorporate the local community. That is one of our core values. In terms of sports, we co-sponsor the Uganda Golf Open taking place next month. We also went into partnership with the Ugandan Olympic Committee, and we will be their hotel. The federation will bring people from all over the world, and we will host them. The medal winners will be able to use our fitness facilities and hopefully become honorary members. We also do concerts and art exhibitions from time to time. Last Sunday we had a festival with the Kampala Music School, a band from Germany, and a classical band from Nairobi. People loved it, they said it was the best Sunday they had in a long time.

Can you tell us about your marketing strategy? How do you target your clients? Do you capitalize the history of this hotel?

We do capitalize on the history, but we are a business hotel, so we structure and focus more on the business-side rather than the historical aspect.

How do you invite those clients to come?

We are a global brand, to begin with. People want to go to a recognized global brand because they feel safe. That is why we make sure we give them that insurance, and a quality service. We ensure they have all the facilities and comfort they are looking for. People come back because we are able to deliver.

This report is going to be published during the Global Africa Investment Summit. 5 Heads of states, ministers, and 500 investors will be there. In which way will this exposure be beneficial for Sheraton Kampala?

Being it a business summit, probably it would help us. We need to know, of course, what type of business will be there, to see if it is our target.

Four topics are going to be discussed: agribusiness, infrastructure, power and national resources. How do you perceive oil discoveries are a pole of attraction for business people?

We have had numbers going up tremendously because of investors coming in, and the government signing projects for refineries. We are going to host, in a couple of months, a big summit on minerals in the hotel. We are expecting 500 people.

It seems that something is moving here. The untapped potential is being showcased. Do you see that the public sector is working hand in hand with the private sector to take full advantage of Uganda’s resources?

Definitely, that is happening. The president is very enthusiastic about broadening all these sectors. We are confident we will see enormous growth in all those sectors. USA is starting to come back into the country, and also the Swedish. Some reversed political decisions are helping the country. There is more activity happening in the oil sector. Hopefully, by 2016, we will see much more. Some people even think we will need more hotels because of this.

Would you like to send a message to the attendants to the Global Africa Investment Summit?

We hope that, if they haven´t been coming to Uganda, that they come; and if they have been coming, that they have to come more regularly. We are certainly ready for them. We have a very hospitable reputation in this hotel, and they can have a very productive stay in Kampala.