[By Roy Kausa]
They say, “every dark cloud there is a silver lining”.
In the recent times, the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka went through some rough patches, including laying off some workers because of the hotel’s renovation programmes. And as if that was not enough, the COVID-19 pandemic also brought its own misery. And the entire tourism and hospitality industry was brought to its knees by this invisible killer. Intercontinental Lusaka closed to the public early this year.
However, the good news is that part of the Intercontinental Hotel has been renovated and 162 rooms have ‘sprouted’ from the ground in the name of Holiday Inn. The Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka popularly known as ‘Inters’ first opened doors to the public in 1978. It became the first five star hotel in Zambia and indeed among the newest hospitality hotel units in the region at that time.
In the last four decades or so, this hotel became a home from home for some of the Heads of State visiting Zambia, for international celebrities, top civil servants, and international tourists. The hotel also played its role in the political history of the country.
Initially, when the hotel was opened, the locals were not allowed to mix with the rest of the hotel residents. This was at the height of the liberation wars in the Southern African region. The Luangwa bar at the hotel was specifically designed for local clients, called a public in those days. And all locals were prohibited from patronising the restaurant or other places in the hotel.
The United National Independence Party (UNIP) and its government led by Dr Kenneth Kaunda created its own rules to avoid the local people mixing with ‘anybody’ perceived as a foreigner. During those days some people were beaten or arrested for finding themselves at wrong places with wrong people.
For example, in one of the townships in Lusaka, a white pastor’s car ran out of fuel. And as this man was seen walking with two local people to go and buy fuel, someone shouted, “spy!” And within a short time, a crowd descended on the church goers and they were badly beaten. Such scenes were common in Lusaka, which housed some freedom fighters from neighbouring countries such as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.
And on a lighter note, Intercontinental Lusaka was famous in the region for its Makumbi Restaurant, situated on the 8th floor, popularly known as “the room at the top”, a popular dance hall, especially on weekends. Renowned musicians such as James Brown, Wilson Pickett and many other African greats like Miriam Makeba once performed there. On the other hand, the hotel’s main ballroom hosted many state banquets, as it was rare for the Zambian Head of State to host such functions at State House in the late 70s.
To add colour and splendour to Zambia’s 56th independence, the Holiday Inn, a subsidiary company of the Intercontinental Group of Hotels (IHG) is now open in Lusaka.
And resident manager, Mr Mark Ross – an experienced hotelier who has worked in different parts of the globe, explained that, “the hotel has 132 rooms as well as 30 long stay residence – total is 162. This hotel is built on the latest IHG design guide and is a lovely, fresh modern property with clean design lines.”
Mr Ross further said the hotel has procured all its art and art works throughout the building from the Kabwata Cultural Village as a way of promoting local art.
“In my spare time, I enjoy playing golf; this is my first visit to Zambia. Lusaka at a glance is a very relaxed city with all amenities / facilities one would need and the people are incredibly friendly, sociable and most of all proud of their country and city,” said Mr Ross.