Talking business: Samantha Muna, Trianum Hospitality

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• Can you give us a condensed version of your education and career history - how you have ended up where you are today?
"I started my hospitality career at the age of 12 while on vacation with my family. To break up the monotony at the vacation, I volunteered to shadow the hotel general manager and he was gracious to explain his career to me. I was hooked, and knew this would be my career path. Immediately upon completing high school, I enrolled in Kenya Utalii College for a four-year Diploma in Hotel Management. This was followed by a one-year degree bridging course at Les Roches Hotel School in Switzerland where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management. I worked for two years at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and then three years with Hilton Hotels in Nairobi, Kenya and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  After five years work experience, I joined Cornell University for a two-year Masters in Management of Hospitality with a specialisation on hospitality real estate finance. Upon graduation, I joined CHM in Boston, working in hotel asset management. After three years, in February 2009, I moved back home to Nairobi where I did some consulting work with the Tamarind Group before I founded Trianum Hospitality Limited with my two sisters in August 2010."
 
• When did you first become aware of the serviced apartment and extended stay sector?
"When I joined the Tamarind Group in 2009, I learnt about their shared condo hotel located in Mombasa and noted the similarity in service to the hotels I knew very well. Then an experience with an expat friend made me realise the gap in the Kenyan market when it came to good quality serviced apartments. It was on this basis that I founded Trianum with my sisters."
 
• How established is the serviced apartment sector in Kenya?
"It is a very young segment which really started to form in 2010. The main player among the management companies is our firm Trianum - as we have now set up and operated more than 20 complexes in Nairobi and Mombasa. The main investors are local investors, families, investor groups and wealthy individuals, as the industry is highly fragmented. The main challenge is the lack of standards and clear definition on what makes up a serviced apartment, hence part of managing is teaching investors what the industry really means. The biggest opportunity is the ability to bring established brands into the local markets."
 
• Who is staying at serviced apartments in Kenya - business v leisure guests, international v domestic etc?
"The largest market is corporate expatriates working with embassies, NGOs and multinational firms. They make up 70 per cent of the market, while the other 30 per cent is individual travellers and families on leisure trips."
 
• What was your motivation for co-founding Trianum?
"To raise the standards of servicing and to become the preeminent provider of the largest network of high quality, fully furnished serviced apartments in the region."
 
• Which are the most established serviced apartment markets in Africa, and which do you see as the up-and-coming hotspots?
"The most established markets are key capital cities in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. The upcoming hot spots are the capitals in smaller economies in Rwanda, Tanzania, DRC, Malawi and Mozambique."
 
• Are you seeing an increase in international investment in the African sector, and where is the money coming from if so?
"Yes, we are seeing a lot of growth in this sector especially where brands such as Marriot Executive Suites in Addis Ababa and Executive Residency by Best Western in Nairobi are joining forces with local developers to raise the quality standards in this sector. The investment is mainly coming from individual investors as a number of developments are created as buy-to-let investments where the developer sells the units to the market and the unit buyers put the units in a rental pool."
 
• How successful have Airbnb and similar companies been in gaining traction in Africa, and how is this affecting serviced apartment and extended stay operators?
"For the people who tap into any of the online platforms and focus on a segmented strategy for growing bookings, the platforms are increasing occupancies and rates for the developments. However, these online platforms will only generate up to 20 per cent of bookings and the rest is thorough corporate contracting and relationship building. That said, I still think there is a lot of room to grow their utilisation and adoption."
 
Samantha Muna is hosting a panel on the African serviced apartment sector at the Serviced Apartment Summit MEA in Dubai on November

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