A Golden Tulip Blooms in Nairobi

I saw the poster along Waiyaki Way – the poster telling us that a Golden Tulip had come to Nairobi. I know the Golden Tulip chain.

The first link, I believe, was forged in the Netherlands in the early 1960s. Now they have bloomed in many countries around the world. Their website tells us that, as part of the Louvre Hotels Group, the chain operates three well-known hotel brands: Tulip Inn, Golden Tulip and Royal Tulip, with a total of over 240 hotels in 45 countries.

I came across them first in Ghana. I stayed at the Golden Tulip in Accra a number of times when I was on consultancy missions there in the early 2000s. Maybe I can tell you a couple of stories about the place.

Every time I went there was a golden Rolls Royce parked conspicuously on the forecourt – a Rolls Royce that was gold painted and with fittings gold plated. The first time I saw it I asked the receptionist who the owner was, but she went shy of the question. During the next visit, however, I spotted a rather flamboyant Ghanaian man in the lobby. He was wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy belt and cowboy boots.

I went to the receptionist and said, ‘I reckon that is the owner of the golden Rolls Royce – am I right?’And she nodded. I learned later that he had come out of the rough and tough Nima settlement. I was told that when he imported the car, the demand for customs duty was enormous – and he went home and returned with the amount in cash. I didn’t ask how he had made his money.

It was also the hotel where a rather embarrassing event occurred. There was a young couple staying in the next room – a rather flashy, well-heeled couple. Gold watch on him. Yes, gold again. And gold necklace on her.

Late at night I heard shouts and screams. It was so bad I thought the woman was being badly beaten if not murdered. It went on and on. So I rang reception and reported it.

‘We will investigate,’ the man at reception said.

Quite soon, the shouting and the screaming stopped. But the receptionist didn’t ring me back. So I rang him again and asked what had happened.

‘It’s ok, sir, he said’. ‘It was just their idea of fun.’

I think if I hear noises like that again, I will just turn on the TV or put my head under the blankets.

The Golden Tulip Hotel that has just opened here in Nairobi is not as big and not as grand as that one in Accra. It is tucked into Muthithi Road that runs parallel with Chiromo Road and links Westlands with Parklands. From the rooms out front you can see the back of the Kempinski Villa Rosa. That establishes the context. If you don’t want the kind of repro and opulent ambiance that the Kempinski offers– or can’t or don’t want to afford it – then you might well opt for the mid-range Golden Tulip.

I went to it twice: once for a drink downstairs when the place wasn’t fully open, and then for a lunch upstairs, a couple of days after the formal launch last week. True, as the poster says, the views across the city from the upstairs restaurant and from the rooftop pool are amazing.

The food is not so amazing – not yet, anyway. The butter served with my minestrone soup was well past it freshness best, and the lettuce in my red beet and sliced beef salad had gone limp.

There was just one Kenyan couple in the room that lunchtime – a brown-suited oldish man and a blue-jeaned youngish girl. They seemed little interested in the food or the view. Nor were they very interested in each other. Their relationship seemed as tired as the lettuce in my salad. The girl spent most of the time reading messages on her phone. And I wondered what her neglected companion was thinking about that.

Before I left, I asked for a look at the bedrooms. There are 94 or them: silver, at USD.180; gold, at USD.240; platinum, at USD.300. These, of course, are the rack rates. So they must be negotiable. In fact, there is an introductory offer valid till the end of May. It is 50% of the rack rates. So the standard, silver room is USD.90 bed and breakfast.

All the rooms are fine. They are clean-cut and smart, with such amenities as work space, wi-fi, DSTV, tea and coffee making kit, lockable safe, hair-dryer, and so on. So for the business traveller – for anyone visiting Nairobi – it’s an option worth considering.

But if the guy with the golden Rolls Royce were in Nairobi, he would have to leave his car outside, because the turns to the underground car park are so very tight.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation