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Interview of Christopher Newbery, Director of Kaboul Serena Hotel

Interview of Christopher Newbery, Director of Kaboul Serena Hotel

Category: Middle East -
Article written by our desk on 2006-02-24

In the business of luxurious hotels, the topic of conversation revolves around customer service, systematic decoration, enticement of high-rank clientele, bonuses and other direct benefits designed to satisfy shareholders or the most prestigious proprietors; but seldom is there a humanitarian dimension included. It is therefore refreshing to converse with men endowed with a new line and firmly set on an outlook for sustainable development; and not on short-termed profits. Christopher Newberry forms part of such a group.

At 57 years of age, Christopher Newberry, holder of a British diploma from a London School of Hotel Management, is the Director of Kabul Serena Hotel in Afghanistan. Formerly known as Kabul Hotel, the establishment was built in 1945, as part of the wave which led to the construction of some twenty hotels in the country; the events leading the end of the 20th century contributed to its neglect; until the Agha Khan Development Network (AKDN), a global development network, obtained a contract to operate it in 2002. After three years of construction, the hotel has 177 rooms, 17 of which are suites, spread over two wings, and additional planning. “In fact, we still have 6 rooms not yet in operating condition, but which will be, beginning March. At which time, we will think about submitting our candidacy for membership in the “Leading Hotels of the World”, and establishing a definite reputation by 2007”, declared Christopher Newberry.
To accomplish this, the Director has faith in the capabilities of the establishment which has proved itself already. “ We opened the hotel on November 8, 2005, and on the following day, we hosted the Economic Conference of Central Asia. We were fully booked for three days, with demanding guests. It could be said that the first challenge was difficult but beneficial. Following this, we were able to rely on the presence of governmental members until Mid-December, before a slack but restful season. Reservations are already flooding with the new year and operation at full capacity should be in order for Mid February.

A conveyor of economic development

In view of brighter days and its tourist-trade attraction yet in the budding stage, Kabul Serena Hotel hence focuses on business tourism. “Our clientele is essentially composed of English, French or Italian businessmen, who are also friends of local people. The hotel is a type of oasis in a town in the midst of total reconstruction. This offers a fresh panorama to investors. It must be borne in mind that we are not there for short-termed profits, but for at least thirty years. Our establishment is the only one to offer this quality of lifestyle to visiting investors. We know that much is yet to be done for in spite of our investment, the situation remains rather unusual. For everything is new,” specifies Mr. Newberry. Unlike other luxurious establishments, could it be that Kabul lacks originality? Not if its history, its future, and its political development are taken into consideration. “Our goal is to not only do our best for the guests, but also for our employees. They are 350 in number and we hope that their time spent at the hotel will cause them to soar on their own, or better still, that they will be the ones to move on to managerial level in the establishment. Today, 10% of our staff comes from abroad. But they are essentially in charge of setting up policies for quality assurance and training. In the next six years, we hope that there will be but ten of us remaining”!

Christopher Newberry accompanied by one of the hotel’s porters

The continuation of an awareness

To hold a speech like this in such a region, Christopher Newberry appears atypical by his convictions. He who held the post of Director for The Crown Plaza of Jinan, in the Chinese province of Shandong, had considered leaving Intercontinental Hotels Group since 2002, following a discussion on the relaunching of the hospitality industry in Afghanistan. “I had therefore discussed the matter with my wife, who is also in the hospitality business, and she was not adverse to the idea. So, when in 2004, I saw an advertisement for the position on the Internet, I immediately applied”, recounting the happy coincidence.

He readily admits that his time for leisure is limited but his felicity lies elsewhere. “There is a fundamental difference in working for the Aga Khan, it benefits charity and the feeling of a personal satisfaction. I want to help this country and have a part in the relaunching of its economy. I see some collaborators who work hard with a good attitude and the onus that rests on me suddenly dawns on me” he said.
A philanthropy which he has cultivated in Madagascar or in Cameroon where his hotel was the only establishment to recruit in time of economic crisis. “I like challenges, said the Director. I have a two-year contract which I hope to see extended”.

In the face of so much determination, one can only wish a lasting success to the Kabul Serena Hotel and to Christopher Newbery.

Concerning Aga Khan Development Network

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) encompasses health, education, rural development and economic development. The AKDN’s purpose is to improve living conditions of the most underprivileged people and to offer them opportunities for the future regardless of origin, creed or sex. The network is a charity of His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, descendant of Prophet Mohamed.

Its Tourism Promotion Services (TPS) department has become a public corporation in Kenya. Aga Khan, who takes it upon himself to canvass businesses, preferably in the region, to set up new establishments, hopes to be able to create a global TPS for East Africa.

For the time being, the department has helped to the opening of establishments in Pakistan, Kenya, Mozambique, Tajikistan, or even in Tanzania, Uganda and in Afghanistan. All these hotels are operating under the Serena brand.

By Sonia Taourghi

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