STONE TOWN: After an hour drive from the southern part of Zanzibar we arrive at the newly opened Park Hyatt in Stone Town. Entering the rather unpretentious but very elegant antique wooden door at the main entrance, you are welcomed by a comfortable, cool breath of the hotel lobby that is located in the ancient building dating back to the 17th century, the Mambo Msiige.
I meet Ms. Marcela Herrendoerfer, the General Manager, for lunch to find out more about this unique place in the old part of Stone Town, which has just opened its doors three months ago. Marcela is actually not only a GM but also a finder of a new generation, a crowd of people who come to Zanzibar to find a certain entrepreneurship, looking for new ideas and businesses which all deal with creative ideas. I am curious to know how she will change Stone Town into a place to be.
IRMA: When you enter the hotel you feel like walking into someone’s private home, a very warm welcome.
MARCELA HERRENDOERFER: Actually this is a typical CI we have at all Park Hyatts, we want to give that special feeling to all our houses around the world. In fact, this ancient part of the hotel used to be the private residence of a wealthy Omani family who took lots of time and patience to build this house. When they had to leave because of political instability, the British embassy moved in and the late explorer and missionary David Livingstone, who discovered the Victoria waterfalls rested here in peace before his body was brought back to England.
IRMA: Zanzibar seems to have an eclectic mix of all different cultures in one place, African, Portuguese, Arabic and Persian. Did you also incorporate all that into the design of the hotel?
M.H.: Yes, we wanted to give that touch also to the architecture and décor. The older part as it was built by an Omani family has strong Arabic structures and the modern parts reflect all different cultural aspects in an elegant mix. For example we have the lamps which are inspired by Persian design, African wood and a lot of Arabic and African contemporary art all throughout the hotel.
Our guests also contribute a lot to this place. It is a very international crowd on one side and on the other side we have a lot of local guests who come here for relaxation, entertainment, socialising and even stay overnight. It is a melting pot of different cultures and ideas. That’s what Zanzibar is all about.
IRMA: This place could become a meeting point not only for travellers, business people but also for a crowd of entrepreneurs who are looking for new inspiration and ideas?
M.H.: I think so too and hopefully that is what we would like to achieve with this place. We notice that already, we have travellers who come to Zanzibar after a safari, who will go afterwards to a resort or even single travellers, men and women who want to experience this hotel in Zanzibar, a historical city which is still at the beginning of the economic path up.
There is definitely an upcoming market on its way, very strongly also formed by women. They find a lot of creativity, handicraft and manufacture in Africa, which helps them to develop their own business, for example in beauty and in fashion. Zanzibar is a perfect spot to develop ideas and get creatively involved. In Stone Town we have more and more shops opening with really interesting concepts, whether it is a young designer like Doreen Mashika with her own fashion label DMZ or someone like Fahari, a former Saint Martins graduate from London who makes unique kaftans and fashion or a brand called INAYA, who creates the best body scrubs and soaps you can find anyhere else in the world (and of course everything is handmade).
IRMA: Just like your hotel. Most parts have been built by hand.
M.H.: Yes, we could say this place is almost handmade, which makes it very special. Craftsmanship is very common on this island. People still work mainly with their hands.
It was also our task to develop these skills when we started this project. You cannot just come here with your machines and raise this place in one year. It takes time and you have to do a lot of training and education. It helps to bring along passion and patience for what you want to do, and the more sensitively you develop this project the better the result will be in general.
IRMA: You only opened a couple of weeks ago and already you are known for a very fine and authentic cuisine?
M.H.: Our team works only with seasonal products and we get the best products delivered from around like for example all our fresh products come from Arusha.
The cuisine from Zanzibar is known for a rich variety of herbs and spices, and we incorporate these aspects when our chef creates new menus, keeping in mind the traditional cooking with only the best products and also an international, modern touch. We kept the menu simple at the moment but have a focus on each dish to make it perfect for what it stands for. You can have an African tagine with saffron rice or enjoy a club sandwich at the pool.
IRMA: The spa menu also reads almost like a fine dish, from classical aroma treatments to an African spice massage.
M.H.: Yes, at our ANANTARA Spa we want to work with very local techniques and mix them to our professional spa line. We have guests who come to us after a safari and they always welcome a post-safari cleansing treatment where you enjoy a full body polished up.
IRMA: How do you like to spend your day off?
M.H.: I love to just get lost in the narrow streets of Stone Town, which also has the reputation of being a labyrinth. Or rent a speedboat together with friends and ride around the island or spend some time up north at the Baraza Beach Resort on the Mnemba Island. Sometimes I go to Jaws Corner where mainly men sit around and drink coffee, when you get to talk to them you know soon the latest talk about town and we are new in the middle of it, so it is very interesting.
IRMA: ….and I am sure you are already a meeting point not only for Zanzibari.
M.H.: When we opened the Park Hyatt in Zanzibar it was clear that with a project like this, one also develops in very small steps the area you get into. Which is a very interesting task and as I said before, a lot of patience and sensitivity helps.
IRMA: I wish you all the best for this interesting task and can’t wait to revisit Zanzibar in a couple of years.
M.H.: Thank you, IRMA, you are always welcome.