After many years of living in the United States, Dr. Tokpa and his wife Kiapeh, returned to Liberia and decided to invest in a local hotel business. They settled in Gbarnga City, Bong County in central Liberia, their birth place. Gbarnga is located about 150 kilometers away from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. In 2009, the couple opened the Serengeti Hotel also known as Hill Top. The hotel has a bar and a restaurant. Bong County is ideally located for travelers visiting other parts of rural Liberia to spend time. Amos Kennedy, general manager said, “Some factors that motivated us to invest in the hotel business were the celebration of Liberia’s 162nd Independence day scheduled to take place in the County that year, in 2009. Additionally, we knew that travelers from rural Liberia to Monrovia and vice versa would need a good place to lodge.”
Business was good from the start, but later, things began to change. Finding trained staff, providing 24-hour electricity, and the frequency of customers coupled with lack of proper security, were fast becoming a challenge. Then in June of 2012, a team from Building Markets’ USAID Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia (SMI-L) visited the county and began verifying registered local businesses. Serengeti was verified and was informed about SMI-L’s services and benefits. That same day “I was told if I wanted my hotel to be different from the others, I will have to make the provision to begin providing 24-hour electricity and consider fencing the facility to ensure security,” said Amos.
“Since SMI-L’s visit to Serengeti, things have dramatically changed for the better. We firstly heeded their advice by; providing a wire fence around the hotel facility and providing 24hours electricity. Today, we are benefiting in a number of ways from SMI-L services. We have witnessed an increased in the flow of customers at our hotel and have participated in the SMI-L Gbarnga Networking Event.” Amos said. On 19 July 2013, SMI-L held a one-day “USAID Gbarnga Networking Event” which brought together nine buyers and 24 local suppliers. Networking events, also called business matchmaking, is a key component of SMI-L. Under this component, SMI-L facilitates business relationships between local businesses in Liberia and various buyers, including multi-national corporations, international aid and development agencies, and national governments. Mrs. Tokpa, representing Serengeti Hotel at the event said she embraced this new business linkage opportunity. “It’s a dream come true, because we have long hoped for an organization that can help to link us with international buyers and help us to expand our business,” she said.
Business matchmaking also consists of SMI-L receiving specific requests for goods and services from buyers. In November 2012, Serengeti won a contract, in the amount of $5,000 through this service. SMI-L included Serengeti, among other businesses, in a recommendation to the National Democratic Institute (an International NGO working in the area of governance and promotion of democracy in Liberia). The contract was to provide catering and lodging services for 15 participants attending a two-day workshop held by NDI in Gbarnga.
SMI-L’s Supplier Directory has also led to new business for the hotel. “Earlier this year, I received a call from England,” Amos said. “The caller said he has never been to Liberia but was planning to come. If he did he would travel to Gbarnga and would like to lodge at Serengeti. He mentioned that he found out about Serengeti from the SMI-L online Supplier Directory. The following week the caller’s friend sent someone to make the booking on his behalf. “This beats my imagination,” Amos said.
Serengeti ranks among the leading hotels in Gbarnga and is looking forward to a massive expansion. Apart from the local hotel, the Tokpa’s also own and operate a 400-acre rubber farm. Between the hotel and rubber farm, the Tokpa’s employ 42 full-time persons and 44 daily hires. Revenues generated from both businesses will be used to construct a new 80-bedroom hotel. The land has been secured and building materials are currently being purchased. Construction is expected to begin in November 2013 “SMI-L is really helping us grow and expand our business,” Amos concluded.
The SMI-L is made possible by USAID: through the American people.
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