Wadi Degla in Kenya:

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Redefining membership clubs for the super affluent

For most well heeled Kenyans, a lot of time is wasted shuttling from one club to another in order to enjoy different recreational offerings. For example, one will drive to the gym in a hotel in the morning, drive to the other end of town for a round of golf, go home again to take one kid for swimming at one venue and another kid for squash at another venue. Not to mention the spouse with his/her recreation schedules, which may be in conflict with others’.

Even with meticulous planning and compromise, it’s a hectic undertaking. After all that, one may want to kick back with a drink at yet another place. The reason for these journeys is because in Kenya, there isn’t a club that offers world-class health, recreational and multiple sports facilities in one place. Well, that is changing with Wadi Degla Club (Kenya), which opened its first location in Nairobi’s Runda estate in October 2016.

By Abel Kabiru

Wadi Degla Club is a privately owned company that is challenging the conventional concept of clubs in East and Northern Africa. It provides premium leisure, health, hospitality, entertainment and world-class sports amenities from one facility, targeting high net-worth individuals.

Started in 2003 at Cairo in Egypt, Wadi Degla Club is a subsidiary of Egypro, a telecommunications support firm present in different countries in Africa. In 2000, the directors decided to diversify to other sectors and opted to develop the fairest sports club in Egypt. The country had a thriving sports culture. There were numerous government and member-owned sports clubs in Egypt then. To differentiate themselves, the proprietors had to enter the market differently. They formed a private club, run like a business. There were no elections for clubs officials as happens elsewhere. “We were the first people to own a private club for members owned by a company. It’s a new way of approaching the business. We invest or own money in the Club’s sports and recreational infrastructure, then we wait for a return on our investments,” says Joseph Reda, the country director.

“When you go inside, you feel like you are in a resort. Nice (man-made) lakes, high class restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and the latest sports infrastructure. We were the first to bring to Egypt, FIFA-approved turf for our football pitches. We did the same for tennis and squash, basketball, handball, volleyball, martial arts, horsing, aerobics, gyms, spas, beauty salons, sports cafes, dancing halls. Everything was properly made to international standards and the latest technology available. We are doing the same for Kenya,” he says.

The Club will cater for professional athletes, those who need disciplined training to turn pro, members engaging in non-competitive sports as well as those interested in team-building activities.

“An aerial view of the facility would show all types of sports infrastructure and the recreational and entertainment facilities around it. We were the first people to classify pools within one club. If you go to many Kenyan clubs you find one big pool which is used for training, kids are playing in it, while others relax. I don’t believe people enjoy. If I want to relax I will be annoyed by the noise from the kids around me. If I want to train I will not have enough space to do my laps.”

Wadi Degla has different pools: an Olympic-standard training pool, a family pool and the kids’ pool. Usually, kids’ pools are small, secluded shallow corners but at Wadi Degla, the smallest is 3500 square feet. All the swimming pools are heated and also have underwater lighting for spectacular views at night.

“When we started in Egypt, we only had one club. But the demand for the concept was overwhelming so we built the second, third, fourth and fifth clubs. Today these five clubs have a total membership of 130,000 families in Cairo. We are building three branches in Alexandria and two more in Cairo. Cairo has a population of 20 million people, almost half of Kenyan population. The market is too big to exhaust. In the next five years we will be having ten clubs in Egypt. At the same time, we will have nineteen clubs in different markets in Africa,” says Reda.

In Kenya, Wadi Degla Club has three locations under construction. The three locations will contain four branches and comprise of the newly-opened Runda branch, then there’s Mamba Village in Karen as well two different plots in Migaa Estate. One plot of 13 acres will be the golf course while the other will be the sports club.

When one becomes a member of Wadi Degla Club, he or she can enjoy their facilities at any club. Normally, there are few clubs in Kenya that have reciprocal agreements. At Wadi Degla Club, one can enjoy their facilities at any branch in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt and Dubai – at no extra cost. For frequent travellers, this is an added benefit, because they get to sample different clubs. That local and international membership access is a differentiator. Today, a lot of business executives travel throughout East Africa and to Middle East. For that group, Wadi Degla would be an ideal membership.

Wadi Degla charges a single lifetime membership fee of Ksh950,000 per principal member. The member’s spouse and kids pays only 10 percent. When kids reach 21 years, they pay 30% of the fee and become bona fide members, which means they can further enlist their spouses and kids for just 10 percent. Joseph says that people are buying membership in advance, as opposed to waiting. When the club opens later in the year, the fee will be Ksh1.2 million. If one buys now at Ksh950,000 they will save Ksh250,000. One can also pay a deposit of Ksh240,000 and settle the balance in three months.

“The Clubs greatly influences lifestyle for the members with enjoyable and healthy lifestyle. You get the infrastructure of all the sports within one facility. We are raising the standards of sports facilities in Kenya: all our pitches have FIFA-approved turfs, our running tracks have IAAF-approved tartan, same for tennis and other sports. Each Wadi Degla club will create employment for 300 employees,” says Reda.

Amazingly, Joseph did not do any marketing until recently. It was all by word of mouth. The parent company to Wadi Degla, Egypro, enjoyed good reputation in the market and he would just talk to his friends and acquaintances about the concept. With 150 members already signed and paid up he can now focus on the completion of the Club, raising the numbers and delivering on the promise.

Egypro is a telecom infrastructure service provider, that builds Base Transmission Stations (BTS) for Safaricom and Airtel, lays fibre optic cables, CCTV, undertakes site management as well as e-government projects. It maintains Safaricom’s 700 BTS sites in Nairobi.

Wadi Degla has vertically integrated in some aspects and has 2,000 acres in Oasis, Egypt. Through WD Agriculture, it grows its own vegetables to be consumed in the Club’s branches. It has an industrial kitchen, Karma Foods, which packages food to be distributed throughout the Club.

There are 28 businesses under Wadi Degla: football clubs, sports academies, real estate, hospitality, manufacturing etc. The thinking, Reda says, was that if they diversified and built, say, a high-end estate comprising of 200 houses, they would be easily taken up by the members. This has been the case. Should the same members require to go for holiday, Wadi Degla would have destinations to cater for them. Today, Wadi Degla has five resorts on the Red Sea and three on the Mediterranean Sea, as well as houses and villas taking up almost 1 million square meters in floor area. The business is growing. Should members request for a school or hospital or commercial premises, then it is done, as long as the numbers add up. “These wealthy people asked for yachts. Now we have our own company for selling, leasing or renting yachts.”

With Kenya in particular showing a healthy growth of the middle and high economic class, Reda sees the Egyptian business growth pattern replicating in Kenya – real estate, hotels etc. Wadi Degla, which has about 300 shareholders, is completely private and there are no shareholders in Kenya.

Reda, a civil engineer by profession, was previously in charge of Egypro’s telecom businesses in East Africa as the managing director. Before that he had worked for the company in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania.

What’s the value for money here?

A good gym in Nairobi charges upwards of Ksh20,000 per person per month. A fitness enthusiast and his spouse will therefore spend Ksh40,000. In one year, that comes to 480,000. Yet, with Wadi Degla, a membership of Ksh950,000 for the principal member and Ksh95,000 for the spouse guarantees a lifetime’s access to not only a gym, but to the wholesome concept of healthy living with all the sports amenities, high-end hospitality outlets, club friends, luxury shopping experience, related experiences etc. Plus one can bring the kids on board at only 10 percent per child. You can even bring your dad, mum, brother, sister and in-laws at 10 percent of the fees. That’s value for money. You get so much more than you’d ever get in your gym or at any club. The clubs in Kenya – be they golf, country or sports clubs – don’t have as many benefits. Here, you acquire an international elitist lifestyle for you and your loved ones, for a price that’s equivalent to two years of your local gym fees.

Reda says that the typical middle class professional sees less and less of his children and spends more time at work. A club, he reckons, can bring together the whole family. A parent can watch closely as the kids develop their skills in different sports. Further, as an interesting place, kids will be preoccupied and this will help in their teens as they eschew the usual social vices like drugs, alcohol bingeing, smoking etc. They will be having tournaments to think about!

The Sports Academies

Wadi Dega Club has four main sports academies in Kenya.

Arsenal Soccer

Arsenal Soccer School set jointly with the leading English Club, implements the most advanced training methodologies with children through Arsenal certified football instructors who are regularly trained by top Arsenal coaches. Candidates enroll in an annual program that includes on-field as well off-field activities varying from physical training, football plans and tactics to English and computer skills. The academy is considered a leader in Egypt and Middle East Region.

WD Darwish Squash academy

The academy is the first specialized squash-training academy in Egypt and the Middle East and one of the largest squash academies worldwide. The academy offers training for all levels. The academy’s team includes numerous squash champions who are already achieving strong results, both nationally and internationally.

The Wakiihuri Academy

Wadi Degla has sought partnerships locally with former global athletic superstars, one of them being The Wakiihuri Athletics Academy. This will go a long way to help motivate and train athletes to become global sports stars.

Swim America

In the United States and around the world, Wadi Degla’s is the only swimming program endorsed by the American swimming coaches association.

WD Tennis

The academy provides specific programs for each level to allow players to learn all skills related to the level they play in. The academy has a number of players with excelling achievements

The academies’ fees ranges between Ksh60,000-70,000k per year. So a member may decide to turn pro and join the academies. The academies will initially be based in Nairobi, with the ultimate goal being to have replicas in other major towns in Kenya.

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