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Speech by Prince Amyn Aga Khan at the Inauguration of the Restoration of the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo, Mozambique

16 December 2010

 

Please also see:
Speech in Portuguese
Press Release (English, Portuguese)
Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan (English, Portuguese
Photographs from the Inauguration
Photographs of the Polana Serena Hotel
Overview of the Polana Serena Hotel
Video of the Inauguration


Your Excellency, Mr. President,
Your Highness,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Amyn Aga Khan delivers his address the Inauguration Ceremony for the renovated Polana Serena Hotel.
Photo: Zahur Ramji
On behalf of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and, more specifically, its subsidiary units Tourism Promotion Services (TPS) and the Serena Hotel group, which we created some forty years ago, it is with the greatest happiness and pleasure that I welcome you today to this official opening (or should I say re-opening?) of this magnificent Hotel Polana. It is, for me, an occasion both exciting and gratifying.

The Polana Hotel has the status of an icon, one of the few hotels on this continent that can claim to have that status and one of the very few in this part of Africa. Its location, in the heart of the capital city Maputo, on one of the most beautiful and sought-after avenues of the town, gives it a special aura, just as do the graciousness and elegance of its architecture and interiors, reminiscent of the splendours of this hotel's colonial past, for Polana's history stretches back nearly a century, to 1922. No wonder the Polana is affectionately known locally as the Grande Dame of Maputo!

I have insisted on the iconic nature of this hotel because we, in AKFED and SERENA, have been very conscious of that status and it has governed our approach to improving, upgrading and enhancing this property. When SERENA took over the Polana eight years ago, in February, the hotel was in a condition we felt unworthy. Almost immediately, therefore, in 2003 and 2004, we carried out improvements to the back of house facilities to bring them up to acceptable levels of hygiene, safety and efficiency. And on the 5th of January 2009 we commenced an extensive programme of refurbishment and expansion aimed at returning to this Grande Dame of Maputo, who had received visitors from all corners of the world, her inheritance of elegance and distinction. Eighteen months later, on September 1st of this year, a phased opening began and today we are gathered to inaugurate this very special place which we believe will bring a significant addition to Maputo's and to Mozambique's hospitality sector and which is ready to take its place once again in the worldwide company of great international hotels.


Of course, as in all complex projects, there have been hurdles to overcome along the way—and I am most grateful to those who have helped us to do that, and to do so without compromising either the credibility or the quality of the work through circumventions or shortcuts. For example, during the reconstruction process, major structural problems came to light that had not been apparent or even imagined earlier. It was of course essential to resolve them as a first priority since they affected the very safety of our future guests. And before that, we had to wait until the casino, which was part of the old hotel, could and would move out as not only is it a long-standing policy of the Serena Group not to offer gambling in any of our facilities but we believed that a proper ballroom was essential to reviving the hotel’s standing and to improving its operations. Addressing these problems may have meant temporary delays and it has considerably increased the cost of this rehabilitation, but it has ensured that the complete project we now have meets the specifications of a leading Serena hotel in every respect, and that the Polana has regained its position as Maputo’s leading hotel.

The total investment for this upgrade has been US$ 25 million. I would like here to thank most warmly our partners, the Société de Promotion et de Participation pour la Coopération Economique (PROPARCO), the French development agency, and the Deutsche Investitions and Entwicklungsgesellschaft MBH (DEG), the German development agency. AKFED is happy indeed that PROPARCO and DEG agreed to join us, both as equity partners and as lenders. I should like to add that our collaboration has been a source of considerable satisfaction to me, personally.

It probably would have made commercial sense to close the Polana entirely during the 18 months of construction that have been necessary; but, after much soul searching, we decided to keep the Polana Serena operational during all that time with the 55 rooms of the Polana Mar available to our clients and with Management making every effort to ensure that the inevitable disruption was managed as efficiently as possible and that acceptable standards of service and comfort continued to be offered to our guests during those long months.

A major consideration in the decision to keep the hotel open, despite the inevitable low occupancies and financial losses that resulted from this decision, was that virtually a full complement of staff could thus be maintained and working during that time. We had taken a similar position back in 2002, when we took over the Polana and when we had retained all the Mozambican staff then employed in the hotel, a majority of whom in fact continue to work here to this day. Today 97% of the staff of the Polana are Mozambican nationals, 2% are East African nationals and only 1% are expatriates. I should perhaps add that since Serena took over the total staff compliment of 360 persons have been retrained to Serena standards and have responded well and enthusiastically to that training.

We are what we come from; and as I have said, the Polana Serena has the benefit of an extraordinary and essential inheritance, both cultural and natural. I am proud that this extraordinary inheritance will henceforth be an intrinsic part of this hotel's future. We have sought to respect the past, that the future should be more truly rewarding. Our brief to the architects and designers was that future guests of the Polana should feel themselves surrounded by the arts and aesthetic of the hotel's colonial history, while enjoying state-of-the-art facilities; that the Polana should reflect and embody local art and culture; that the hotel should continue to have a clear and unique personality and ambiance while being of recognisably international standing. In this endeavour, much research and creative work was contributed by everyone. We have worked as a team and it has been both fun and educational. My thanks and admiration go to our architects Jon Cavanagh and Mike Lord of Symbion International, to Walter Reid, our architect of record, to our contractors Sogecoa and Mesch Arquitectos who have produced work of excellent quality and have observed challenging deadlines and to our horticultural and landscape specialist Andrew Greathead (Santa Verde - Gardens). And last, but far from least, my warm, personal thanks go to Mahmud JanMohamed and his TPS Management teams, in Nairobi and here, who have overseen, steered and guided this complex project. If I may be permitted, in many ways I think our team effort has been exemplary.

Today, the Grande Dame of Maputo boasts 142 guest rooms of all types, including studios, deluxe rooms, executive rooms and suites and a magnificent Presidential suite. Clients have the option of a sea view or a city view. There is an all-day restaurant, the Veranda, offering either buffets or à la carte meals ; a gastronomic restaurant, the Delgoa, inspired and supervised by French chef Edouard Loubet, here with us today, whose restaurant in France has been awarded 2 stars by Michelin and who has just been voted Chef of the Year 2010 by Gault et Millaut (and I think this is the first time that Maputo will boast a restaurant created by such a well-known and admired chef); a casual restaurant and bar, the Aquarius, serving light menu options ; a sumptuous and truly magnificent ballroom, which had been turned into a casino and that we have now returned to its original splendour; meeting rooms and facilities of different sizes, fully equipped, waiting to receive meetings and conference delegates; and the Maisha Health Club and Spa, which we immodestly believe will be the best in Maputo and which also contains a beautiful secret garden and bar able to cater to private parties as well. And of course, there are the glorious and romantic Polana gardens and the remodelled swimming pool. I hope you will agree that the reconstruction and expansion of the Polana before you has dignified, embellished and modernised this elegant landmark ; that the Polana will now take its rightful place, an icon combining a most beautiful setting with the highest quality of service, making a unique contribution to this country's leisure industry and to the Serena group's proud reputation, a flagship property second to none in Mozambique standing proudly beside Serena's other city-centre hotels in Nairobi, Arusha, Kampala, Kigali, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Quetta and Kabul, with more to come Insh'Allah, in Burundi, Mali, Syria, Tajikistan and Egypt.

I have mentioned earlier the extended gardens of the Polana. They have been revitalized by the installation of what is known as a grey water recycling system which produces quality water for the gardens from the hotel’s waste water. This system is one of the reasons that the Polana has recently been certified ISO 14001 compliant, which means that the hotel has received the most prestigious compliance certification from the International Environment Management System, and is recognised as being in the forefront, in its standards and practices, where environmental impacts and performance are concerned. Here too, I believe the Polana Serena is currently the only hotel in Mozambique to have received this certification.

Our goals in this project have been set very high. This ceremony should be seen, I think, not only as a moment of celebration, but also as one of rededication: I would like to think that what has been accomplished so far is only a beginning. What is needed now, going forward, is a continuation of the spirit in which this work has been accomplished: an uncompromising commitment to quality and the determination of Government and ourselves, the private sector, to work together, in harmony and understanding, to realize, in further careful, appropriate developments, the full touristic potential which is represented by this country's unique combination of exceptional natural assets and cultural points of international quality and interest; without undue haste, avoiding the pitfalls of over-development and speculation, and ensuring that the essential infrastructure is in place to underwrite such development and the continuing quality of that development. We in Serena hope to be part of such a future development in this country and, indeed, to play a lead role in it.

Thank you

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