The management of the Heron Portico in Nairobi invited me to stay a night and sample what this business-oriented hotel has to offer.
I’ve been around in Nairobi long enough to remember this place when it was called Heron Court – but mostly because of its raunchy Buffalo Bill’s Bar out front. Also, in those days there was the nearby and popular Starlight nightclub in a converted church at the corner of Valley Road and Milimani Road – a nightclub that was pulled down and replaced with the gold-painted and gaudy building, first a bank and now the Integrity Centre that houses the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
So I was intrigued to explore what the conversion to the Heron Portico has entailed.
Now, I don’t do PR. The problem with being paid to do PR on a hotel, say, is that you have to sing for your dinner, bed and breakfast. And when I do respond to an invitation, I still sing my own song.
There was one occasion, for example, when my wife and I, and our very little No.1 son, were invited to stay at a lodge on the fringes of the Masai Mara that had come under new management. It had been one of our favourite places, because of its simple wilderness setting, its quality un-frilled service, and its opportunities for guided walks.
But all this had changed: it had been fenced off; the guided walks had been discontinued; at dinner we were entertained by a Masai dance troupe and the inevitable rendition of ‘Jambo Bwana’.
‘I’m very sorry,’ I said to the group’s Managing Director, ‘I can’t write about it – I think you have spoiled the place.’
He asked me why. Having heard me out he said, ‘The problem with you, John, is that you are a resident. The tourists will really like what we have done.’
So my song on that occasion was just that talk with the MD – and no article.
This time, though – about the conversion of Heron Court to the Heron Portico – I don’t think they have spoilt the place. Not at all. So let me sing my song about it.
First, a few facts. The Heron Portico has 108 rooms and suites; four dining, lounge and bar areas; banquet and conference facilities for up to 120 participants; a heated swimming pool; a ‘state of the art’ fitness centre; steam room and sauna; hairdressing salon; gift shop; a business centre and also free wi-fi in the bedrooms.
So it does have all the amenities the business traveller (or any other client, for that matter) requires – and, at 35 square metres, the standard rooms are quite spacious and well appointed with satellite TVs, lockable safes, tea and coffee making facilities.
The ‘Rough Guide’ – my favourite travel guide – says that the Heron Portico, at a price range of between Ksh.12,000 to 14,000, is very good value for money when compared with its competition in Nairobi. I agree. And when I mentioned this to Sanjeen Tiwari, the General Manager, he said, ‘that is precisely what we are aiming for – value for money.’
He is clearly proud of what he is managing. ‘Since the Sarovar Hotels India took over the management in 2013,’ he said, ‘for the three years the Heron Portico has been awarded the TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. And TripAdvisor rates the hotel 17th out of 140 in Nairobi.
Along its frontage, the Heron Portico is flying three flags: the Sarovar Group’s, the UN’s, and Kenya’s. Each flag has its significance.
Certainly, the Sarovar Group, which manages many hotels across India and elsewhere, has brought a quiet efficiency to the hotel. It has also brought an Indian Ocean style. In the decor, especially in the main lobby, there is a rich blend of Indian and Swahili influences in the furnishing and decoration.
As for the UN flag, the hotel has a multi-cultural clientele. In my own short stay I observed European, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and African guests.
And the Kenyan flag? What attractions does the Heron Portico have for Kenyans and residents like me? For those from other parts of the country visiting Nairobi, it offers a comfort and an ambience of a standard rather like the popular Fairview Hotel.
For Nairobians, there are the good conference facilities, well situated near the centre of the city. There is the opportunity to take membership of the Revive Health Club and Spa – at a price lower than the bigger hotels in the city. You can have a well-cooked and attractively-presented dinner from the imaginative and cosmopolitan menu of the Mdalasini main restaurant; you can enjoy a relaxed coffee or sun-downer in the small and leafy Bashasha garden coffee shop.
Yes, the Heron Portico does deserve the singing of a song.