Tanzania:Places-Out of Dar Es Salaam,Yet So Close
By ELLEN CREAGER
The Roman Catholic Mission in Bagamoyo is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in East and Central Africa, built in 1868.
On a Saturday evening we arrived at the Paradise Resort Hotel in Bagamoyo having miraculously made it through some tedious grocery shopping, a trip to the paediatrician's and a host of minor and mostly irritating undertakings.
In hindsight, we should probably have shelved some of them for another day. But then again, Bagamoyo is just the kind of appointment you can have after doing all that stuff and still arrive in time for sundowners.
If like me, you have mostly heard about Paradise Resort in connection with its hosting of the contestants of Miss Tanzania each year, you will be bowled over when you finally arrive there is more to take in at this sprawling and elegant set up with its tarred, palm-lined driveway, well tended greens and pretty thatched structures on the beachfront.
Built in May 1997, the brainchild of businessman Mahad Nur, the Paradise Holiday Resort started out as a 12-roomed affair before they embarked on a gradual extension to add conference facilities and increase the number of rooms from 32 to 48 and then to 60. Ten years later, the Paradise boasts 98 rooms. It has four executive suites, many deluxe rooms and the plan with the ongoing renovation is to bring all the standard rooms to deluxe level.
Thanks for 'frequenting'
Some would probably disagree but transforming something from a 12-room affair to the luxury resort that it is today, complete with a swimming pool, a 600-seater conference facility and several bars and restaurants probably requires more than just bags of money. To sit down with the soft-spoken, charismatic Nur is to discover it would also probably have a lot to do with knowing your trade well (he studied hotel management), being personally involved and, above all, listening to whatever your customers have to say.
And Nur understands his clientele: "They are people who demand standards and we want to meet those standards. They say our standards are always going up, they like it. We have clients who say if we don't have any rooms available, they won't come to Bagamoyo. It's the attention to detail."
Ah, the attention to detail. From the mixed fruit platter that welcomes you to your suite, to the toothbrushes and toothpaste in the en-suite bathrooms, to the general service to the food they have seen to it that you complain only if you're naturally a nag.
The buffet menu features different themes for different days and nights - from the Swahili to the Asian and anything in between. The most popular night, however, is Swahili night on Wednesday where staff will be dressed in Khangas of vitenges and the food is all local and served in clay pots. There are also fire dances. A live band led by King Malu whom Nur describes as the "best saxophonist ever" provides entertainment most days of the week.
With 90 percent of their guests being repeat clientele, the hotel decided to launch "The Frequenter," a loyalty programme 18 months ago which rewards those who regularly return to enjoy their services. Their system is computerised, so a "Frequenter" is given a card that he may present whenever he is at the hotel (or any of the sister companies of Paradise) in order to get a minimum 10 percent discount on your total bill for all hotel services or facilities.
Starting a local chain
There are many benefits for being on this loyalty programme and they include free nights, faster, automated check-ins, late checkouts (that's very important, trust me), upgrades from one room type to another (much like being upgraded on the plane from Economy to First Class And, "You don't need a direct line to the MD or any official to claim these benefits; you only present your card," says Nur.
According to Nur, apart from two international hotel chains, the Paradise is the only one in Tanzania with this kind of programme and there are currently 450 "frequenters" on their roll.
Such has been the success of Paradise that it has grown to employ 188 people and has mothered several other businesses including City Gardens, Dar es Salaam Conference Centre and the East African Hotel in Arusha. They are now looking to set up shop in Ngorongoro and Selous in addition to their long term plans of investing in Zanzibar. "Then we will offer packages that sell and compliment our facilities, say, five days in Selous and two days in Bagamoyo," Nur says.
"We would like to be a local chain," he adds.
Apart from the sheer elegance of the establishment, one thing that has contributed to Paradise's growth has been its investment in conference facilities. They currently have six ample-sized halls for conferences that can seat up to 600 people. On any day you are likely to find one of these rooms in use.