MD SAROVA HOTELS & RESORTS
Jimi Kariuki is no stranger to the tourism and hospitality industry in Kenya. Having spent 29 years of his professional career in the industry, he feels very honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to make contributions to this very important sector for the Country’s economy.
Born in 1967 to a high school teacher and a petroleum salesman in Nakuru, and the second born of two siblings, Jimi attended various schools in Kenya including St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, Lenana School also in Nairobi and Kagumo High School in Kiganjo. Thereafter, he attended Huron University South Dakota for his under-graduate studies and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. In 2007, he attended the UCT Graduate School of Business in Cape Town where he attained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
Jimi followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the hospitality industry in Kenya, Sarova Hotels & Resorts, in 1992. Sarova Hotels was founded in Kenya in 1974 by the Kariuki and the Vohra families. The brand’s name ‘SAROVA’ was derived from the first names of the 3 wives of the 3 founder members: SA – SWARNA VOHRA, RO – ROSE KARIUKI, VA – VARSHA VOHRA.
From the group’s first hotel, a 94-bedroom hotel on Tom Mboya Street Nairobi, Hotel Ambassador, to a portfolio of 7 properties in Kenya totalling 1,100 guest bedrooms, Sarova Hotels remains a key player in the Country’s tourism and hospitality sector.
It has been a really exciting journey for Jimi from where he started in the company to where he is today.
“I have learnt a lot, made many business and social contacts here in Kenya and overseas, and I have been very fortunate to interact with many great Kenyan and foreign business leaders.”Jimi Kariuki
The hospitality space in Kenya has gone through amazing changes since 1992, says Jimi. It has grown in both the number of hotels, resorts and lodges that have opened up around the Country, as well as in the improvements in the standards of the product and service delivery. Today, there are a lot more international hospitality brands in Kenya, mainly in Nairobi, than there were 20 years ago. He says that this has been a very positive development for the destination as it has raised the profile of the Country, grown the capacity of quality hotel beds in Nairobi, as well as further raised the bar in terms of hotel product standards and service delivery.
Despite the unprecedented impact that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had on the tourism and hospitality industry, the Sarova team has continued to show an incredible spirit of teamwork and a real sense of comradery, Jimi says. And though the Sarova group has been able to smoothly continue operations of their properties since their restart last year following the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions by the government, he says that the industry as a whole is “far from being out of the woods”.
The consumption patterns and trends of travel and hospitality services by the domestic leisure and business markets, our most important markets, have greatly changed in response to the pandemic, and most of our key international source markets remain in some form of travel lockdown. The situation, therefore, remains very fluid and it continues to be impossible to predict how long the crises will last and when it will end.
Jimi says that Sarova is a brand that can give guests a tour of the country, thanks to the location of their properties. They are constantly improving on their standards and consistency in delivering on them with a focus on attention to detail and getting things right the first time.
“Customers are looking for different and positively memorable experiences when they stay in hotels or go out dining, and the COVID-19 Pandemic has made this even more important. It is clear that we have had to re-imagine the end-to-end guests experience at our hotels to both retain our existing Customers and to attract and acquire new Customers. We are also continuing to give confidence to our staff that they are in a safe work environment and to our guests that Sarova Hotels & Resorts are the safest hotels and lodges to stay in, and indeed we are. Business as usual cannot be an option.”
The impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic has also not stopped Sarova from pressing on with development projects initiated before its advent, albeit at a more calculated pace. For instance, the journey of a major upgrade of Sarova Panafric in Nairobi that kicked-off in 2018 has already seen the opening of a new poolside space with a remodelled heated swimming pool, a new alfresco bar and dining ‘The Deck @ Panafric’which is also the venue of the hotel’s weekly Sunday Brunch. The refurbishment has also seen the opening of 96 brand new guest bedrooms, including 3 African inspired themed suites.
The completion of the renovations at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa in Mombasa culminated with the opening of the re-modelled Makutano conference centre. Sarova Mara Game Camp in the Masai Mara Game Reserve has also seen the full upgrade of 36 tents in to deluxe tents and family tents. These are some of the measures Sarova are putting in place to ensure that the brand is ready for a very changed hospitality space and remain the leading homegrown hospitality brand.
Since taking over the role of the group’s Managing Director in 2018, Jimi has strived to ensure that all staff members feel appreciated and that their contributions towards the success and growth of the Sarova brand, no matter the position they hold, are fully recognized.
“The best part about my job is the interactions that I have with our great team. Sarova has a great team of associates at all levels who are passionate about what they do. Our people are the driving force behind our business and we continually recognise and acknowledge this.”
Jimi says that his mentors have always been his parents. They have guided him through every step of his life. His mother was a career teacher and so education was a top priority to her. Prior to entering into the hospitality business in 1974, his father was the Sales Manager in an international pharmaceuticals firm and thereafter in an international petroleum firm. Having worked very closely with his father in his 29 years in Sarova, he has learnt a lot from him especially around self-discipline, integrity and hard work.
Enough of the formal side. Jimi is not all work and no play.
First, he is a family man. Married to his friend and life partner Alison, he has 3 beautiful children namely Robyn (24), Lauryn (22), Colin (20).
Jimi loves to travel and his favourite holiday destinations are Diani Beach, Shaba/Samburu, Thailand, Singapore and New York City.
He says that he dosn’t have a specific dress style or a preferred clothing designer, but he always makes sure that he is presentable and smart. He will wear what is appropriate for the occasion so a suit and tie for business and formal engagements, jeans and chinos for less formal engagements and track suit bottoms when just relaxing. He only wears shorts when at the beach or in a very hot environment.
Jimi starts his weekdays early, at 4.15am to be precise. He works out 5 times a week. This involves a mix of cardio training mainly spinning and running, and also strength training and cross training. He keeps a tab on his body through his Apple Watch. He enjoys watching golf, tennis, rugby 7s, swimming, snooker.
He enjoys good food and his favourites are Swahili Pilau rice, Pasta, Thai and Chinese. He also enjoys a good single malt whisky, Rosé wine and Dominican cigars.
As Sarova Hotels & Resorts approaches 50 years of providing Refreshing African Hospitality, Jimi believes that the next stage of the brand’s growth is in how best it quickly and accurately captures the change in Customer demand, how Sarova is preparing to design a corresponding Customer experience and subsequently turn the global COVID-19 crisis into opportunities. Some of these include taking advantage of global trends such as sustainable tourism or green travel as travellers plan to make more environmentally sound choices over the coming years. This is an area that Sarova Hotels continues excelling in, with several Energy Management Awards already in the bag, to attest to this.
The transformation of Sarova Hotels & Resorts Kenya since 2018 through leading the human capital from the front, an all-inclusive business and value creation strategy and the timely renovations and modernization of the Group’s offerings, sets Jimi’s leadership style apart.
For these and much more, Jimi Kariuki is recognized in the 2022 Business Monthly EA Top 25 Most Influential CEOs Impacting Business.