You dont have to be Lebanese or politically connected to win a contract from the Government of Sierra Leone.
Cue IDEA-UK a team of dedicated, and passionate Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs who refused to let the usual bureaucracy and hidden brown envelopes undermine their desire to bring a first class hotel chain to post war Sierra Leone.
In its heyday Cape Sierra Hotel was one of the two major hotels in the capital city of Freetown. But like others in the tourism industry business stopped for several years during the war. Unfortunately, when the hotel reopened after the end of the war, the management was not able to return the hotel to its past glory. So in 2009, the government closed it and terminated the lease.
In the same year, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) took on a 25-year lease, making a one-time payment of $2.4 million to pay hotel staff and cover other liabilities. Cape Sierra is NASSIT’s second investment in the hospitality industry, after Kimbima Hotel.
NASSIT under advisory from the World Bank’s IFC put out a request for a Public Private Partnership that would limit NASSIT’s risk and turn the hotel reconstruction and management over to a third-party. According to the IFC, Four bids were received:
“International Development Enterprise Associates [UK] Ltd. (IDEA) was selected as the preferred bidder on the basis of its offer to develop the Cape Sierra Hotel into a 200-room hotel and share 6.5 percent of annual revenue with NASSIT.”
In August of 2011, Hilton Worldwide Announced its intention to open the Hilton Freetown Cape Sierra Hotel. Senior Vice President of development, Europe and Africa, Hilton Worldwide said:
“Hilton Worldwide has enjoyed a presence in Africa for more than 50 years and our commitment to the continent remains as solid as ever. We have opened five hotels in Africa already this year and we’re confident Hilton Freetown Cape Sierra will prove to be an important addition to our growing portfolio.”
Before Hilton Worldwide officially announced its new hotel in Freetown there were several different stories that broke including one that said that falsely reported that the Mammy Yoko Hotel would be a Hilton.
IDEA UK had spent months preparing its documents and making sure that all the financials were in order. They had made their bid and had been awarded the contract and yet almost a year later nothing had materialized.
While Programme Director Trudy Morgan didn’t seem disheartened at the time, it was clear that the “up and down” and “meeting-meeting” was having its toll.
A source at the Ministry of Tourism said that “documents that IDEA-UK submitted disappeared from its folder, slowing down the process.” The kind of thing that usually happens when some other bidder has a government functionary on the payroll trying to sway things in their favor.”
Although it took longer than expected, NASSIT finally gave IDEA-UK the go ahead and the $40 million dollar 200 room Hilton Freetown Cape Sierra Hotel was born with funding from the Africa Export-Import Bank (AfreximBank).
The President of Sierra Leone attended the turning of the sod in September last year.
When the Hilton Freetown opens its doors in the first quarter of 2014, the hotel overlooking one of the world’s largest natural harbors is expected to attract 40,000 visitors annually and provide employment for 400 people.
Morgan, and the rest of the team at IDEA-UK have now left their lives in the UK and returned to Sierra Leone where they oversee the construction of the Hilton.
All that is left of the old Cape Sierra Hotel is rubble, and its old signage.
This is the story of the rise of a nation and it is being written by the men and women who had once sought refuge in the West.
Today they have returned to take that which is rightfully theirs…the future.