Radisson Blu General Manager Rob Kucera
Radisson Blu General Manager Rob Kucera.

Rob Kucera has been in Kenya barely for a month, but has already experienced one of Nairobi’s most frustrating moments. Fresh from an 18-month stint at the Radisson Blu Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, the new General Manager at Radisson Blu Nairobi says the two cities share a similar trend when it comes to the roads.

“It’s the same as in Istanbul,” says Mr Kucera, who is South African. “The traffic can get extreme at times.”

The new GM of Radisson Blu in Upper Hill is an imposing figure. But sitting upright and with hands clasped, Mr Kucera displays the calmness of a man who means business. With more than 25 years experience in the hotel industry, he exudes obvious confidence.

Mr Kucera says he has already noted a higher level of education among Kenyans than in some of the destinations he has worked. “The people I deal with, even from a low level of staff are well educated,” he says in an interview with Business Today. “Much better than the same level of staff in some places I have worked.”

Good education among staff, Mr Kucera says, is a good base to work and found a future on. “The people here are extremely friendly and hospitable. The staff are very welcoming.”

Born in the Czech Republic, his parents relocated to South Africa in 1970. Mr Kucera is a hotel management graduate from Wits University in Johannesburg.

“I spent most of my life in South Africa. That’s where I did my schooling and most of my early career,” says the man who has also managed hotels for Mariott and Movenpick.

Radisson Hotel Group is considering tapping into the Mombasa market, expanding in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda and setting up a hotel in Uganda.

Mr Kucera has been in Nairobi since March 14 and says the hotel market in Kenya is facing slight headwinds, marked largely by the Dusit D2 Hotel terror attack in January that claimed 21 lives, raising security consciousness among travellers.

“With the tragic attack, the overall market is a bit down, especially in Q1,” he says. “But in saying that, where are you safe in the world? People are resilient and we are already picking up.”

He relates the current market situation to similar conditions when he arrived in Turkey following an attempted coup in 2016 and killings by a gunman at a nightclub on New Year’s Day of 2017. “Six months down the line, business picked up. You can be guaranteed this one [Kenya] is also getting back.”

The Dubai of Africa

As part of his responsibilities, Mr Kucera will also be the director of East Africa Regional District, which he says is experiencing an “explosion” in economic growth and rapid gains in infrastructure.

“We see East Africa as the Dubai of Africa,” he says.

The hotelier says that Radisson Hotel Group is considering tapping into the Mombasa market, expanding in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda as well as setting up a hotel in Uganda. In Kenya, Radisson is gearing to open a third property in Nairobi, the Radisson Blu Aboretum and Residence. The open date for the 140-room hotel is set for Q3 of 2019.

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The new GM says the hotel is positioning itself to capture what he calls a “gap market”, encompassing clients who have short stays, even from the corporate end, but still maintaining a semblance of leisure.

“Radisson Blu is seen primarily as business hotel. However, we have the leisure aspect of it as well, such as a pool, spa, a fine dining restaurant and leisure packages,” he says. “Even for our corporate clients, you can take your laptop after a day’s work and go relax in the pool.”

Soccer mad Istanbul

An outdoor person who enjoys mountain biking and rugby, Mr Kucera says to manage a hotel, one must enjoy working with people. “If you don’t, then you shouldn’t get into the hotel business at all.”

A fan of the Springboks and Manchester United, Mr Kucera says one of his most endearing memories in Istanbul was the football games. “They have cheerleaders who sing throughout the whole game. They stand on their chairs. They have so much passion.”

Of the four major teams in Istanbul, Mr Kucera says he particularly enjoyed Besiktas games. “The cheerleader stands and opens up his scarf,” he says. “Then whoosh! The whole stadium, all through, everyone with their own scarf. I have never experienced anything like that in my life.”

Mr Kucera hopes to cheer-lead his team of hospitality enthusiasts at Radisson Blu to cement the hotel’s brand in the market.

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