Born in 1967 in Hengelo, in eastern Netherlands, Rex Nijhof has been living in Kigali, Rwanda since 2016, where he works as general manager of the Marriott Hotel.
He grew up and went to school in the Netherlands and later joined the Florida International University School of Hospitality Management, in Miami, Florida, in the United States where he graduated with a Bachelors degree in Hospitality Management in 1990.
Nijhof started his career at the bottom, first as a mini bar supervisor at the Frankfurt Marriott hotel, Germany in 1991.
He also worked as a night auditor, night supervisor to night manager and credit manager before moving to the Munich Mariott Hotel, where he worked as a front desk manager in 1994.
In 1995, he joined a newly formed Dutch company, that was opening its first leisure park with several restaurants and entertainment facilities, as an assistant food and beverages manager.
He then took a break from the hospitality industry to work at the family business dealing with electrical installations. He had to enroll in a technical school.
In 2002, he returned to the hospitality industry when he landed a job at the Park Plaza Hotel in Berlin, Germany. He was by then married and had a daughter, Catherine.
He rejoined Mariott Hotels in 2003 as director of rooms operations, before shortly assuming the post of manager on interim basis for the Berlin Marriott.
He also served as the interim general manager at Brouchrite Courtyard by Mariotti in 2005. Then in 2006, he got his first official promotion to general manager at Stuttgart Sindelfingen Mariott Hotel.
He has since worked in the same capacity in Istanbul (2009), Amsterdam (2011) Mumbai (2014), and currently in the Kigali Mariott since 2016.
Nijof says despite his many postings in various countries, he enjoys travelling with his family.
He spoke to Andrew Kazibwe about his off-duty passion.
What’s your off-duty passion?
I am a private pilot licence holder. But I also love spending time in the outdoors. During winters, I enjoy activities in the mountains, and in summers my family and I love hiking.
My daughter attends school in the Netherlands so there is travelling back and forth between Europe and here, to make sure that whenever she has school breaks, we are there to spend time together. While in Rwanda, I always jog before work and on weekends I go cycling.
If you hadn’t turned into who you are now, what would you have been?
I tried the family electronics business but found myself back in the hospitality industry because I have a passion for it.
I think I would have been a commercial pilot, an upgrade from the private licence holder I am now because the constant travels offers variety, and I think it is a very responsible job.
What signifies your personal style?
I think other people are in a better position to describe that, although I like dealing with people, be they my team and associates or guests at the hotel.
I am not someone who spends a lot of time in the office even when it’s exactly what we are supposed to do I enjoy walking around the hotel lobby checking on things. I enjoy social talks with associates and guests.
How do you manage your wardrobe?
I wear blue, grey or black suits to work. My style has pretty much been the same over the years.
If the weather allows, I wear shorts, a polo shirt and jeans when not in the office, although my daughter tends to influence my wardrobe more.
When in East Africa, where are you most likely to be whiling away your time on a Saturday afternoon?
Doing some shopping, and cooking with family, sometimes in the company of guests.
Describe your best destination yet in East Africa?
We’ve really enjoyed several of them so far, but I long for a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro and through the Serengeti National Park. We also wish to go gorilla trekking.
Anywhere on your must-visit list?
Yes, we haven’t been to China yet, and other countries in Asia such as Japan and South Korea.
I would also want to go to South America, especially to Argentina and Brazil and then visit some parts of the US and Canada. And several place in Africa too. Being Europeans, there are so many European countries we haven’t explored yet, the list is long.
What do you see as East Africa’s greatest strength?
I am not sure whether I can generalise anything about East Africa, but being part of Rwanda’s fast growing economy, the vision and drive is an enormous strength.
What has been achieved in the past two years I have been here is impressive. Rwanda is a role model for the rest of the continent.
What’s your best collection?
Nothing comes to my mind because even when I travel, I don't collect anything.
What’s the most thoughtful gift you’ve received?
My only child, my daughter Catherine. She is a blessing.
What’s the most thoughtful gift you’ve given?
I am not sure but I think it was a smartphone I bought for my mother some years ago. Though she passed away last year, she was very savvy when it came to technical equipment, and that phone finally changed the way we used to communicate, not by so-called snail mail.
What was your last great read?
I rarely read books, and if I do its mostly for work or just newspapers. The last time I did any major reading was for my pilot's licence. Some of them were good but others were technical and very tough.
Which film has impacted you the most?
Recently I watched The Last King of Scotland. It started off in a positive way, but ended with a lot of brutality. It’s certainly was a bit shocking.
What is never missing from your fridge?
Gouda cheese from the Netherlands and beer.