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Green City in the Sun

Published: 30/10/2013 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2013 » November 2013 » Destinations » Home » Features »

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As the economic giant of East Africa, Kenya is a key business travel destination in its own right, and its capital Nairobi is the gateway. But beyond the national interests, Nairobi is a stepping-stone into resource-rich Central Africa. With few mineral resources of its own to rely on, Kenya’s economy is more widely diversified than many other African countries, offering a host of opportunities for entrepreneurs. Everything from agriculture and tourism to manufacturing and ship repair contribute to the country’s respectable 5 percent annual growth in economic output.

“There is definitely growth in the service industries as well,” says Paul Norman, general manager of Southern Sun Mayfair Nairobi. “Banking, for example. Retail is also growing. There will be increased business activity in the future in the technological sector. Samsung has just announced an assembly plant here, for example.” 

But, deep-rooted corruption across all levels of government – along with long periods of political turmoil, and more recently extremist violence – have hamstrung what should be one of the strongest economies in Africa, and affected business travel to Kenya. 

“Violence that erupted around the election in late 2007 and early 2008 had an impact on the travel and investment opportunities in Kenya,” says Michella Webster, head of business development, sub-Saharan Africa at Wings Travel Management. “Tourism is a vital sector and it suffered severely after the 2007 election,” Webster adds. 

Kenya’s citizens and those with business travel interests in the country can hardly be faulted for caution, especially in the wake of the recent attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. The 80-hour standoff, in which at least 67 died, has left the country shaken. But the signs are positive that the tragic event is being dealt with, and Nairobi and the entire country is regaining its confidence.

Getting In, Out and Around

From its snow-covered mountain peaks to the shores of Lake Victoria, and across miles of savannah and desert, Kenya is a country with rich diversity, both of landscape and natural abundance. However, as Africa continues to flex its economic muscle on the world stage, these assets are only going to be enhanced as the country continues its rapid development as a prime portal for business travel.

“Kenya’s key geographic position, infrastructure and telecommunications all work to position it as a favorable location for international corporations wanting to relocate or expand into the region,” says Webster. “Kenya also offers easy access to the East African markets such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.”

Webster is right, and the road ahead for Kenya, and Nairobi in particular as a business travel destination, looks rosy. That’s if the country can achieve and maintain political stability. As it stands, that appears the only realistic obstacle to significant economic growth.

Unbounded Potential

International flights land at Jomo Kenyatta Airport (NBO), located 10 miles beyond the central business district on the road to Mombasa. Wilson Airport (WIL) is situated closer to the CBD, and offers both domestic services and charter flights. 

NBO is getting a badly needed facelift especially after the recent fire in its international arrivals terminal this past summer.It’s currently undergoing a major overhaul, including the building of a second runway, construction of a new terminal and parking garage and general renovation of existing airport facilities. “I can’t wait for the redevelopment to be complete,” says Norman. 

If you have more than a few hours to wait, it’s worth paying for access to the Business Class lounge says Marc de Jager, global alliance manager for Travel with Flair. “It’s very busy all the time, so if you have a long connection it is definitely advisable to have lounge access.”

However, if your travels take you into Nairobi proper, there are some tricks to getting around the city. Unless you’re made of sterner stuff, you’ll want to avoid renting a car in Nairobi; taxis are readily available from the airport and hotels. Remember to negotiate a fare up front. Local ‘matatu’ minibus taxis are popular with locals, but aren’t ideal for getting to meetings on time.  When going out at night, it’s best to ask your hotel to call a taxi.

“I always prefer to arrange a transfer beforehand, but there are airport-sanctioned taxis just outside the terminal building. It usually costs around $15 - $35 depending on where you are going,” De Jager says.

Staying Awhile 

Confidence in Nairobi’s future is evidenced by the big hotel projects popping up all over the booming skyline. Kempinski has made the move into East Africa with the Villa Rosa. Strategically placed on the main route between the central business district and the emerging Westlands suburb, the hotel’s noticeable pink façade is quickly becoming a landmark.

Among the newer entrants is Hemingways Nairobi, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. This 45-room boutique is situated in Nairobi’s Karen residential area. Asian hospitality group Dusit International is set to open its new DusitD2 property any time now. These newcomers are expected to be followed shortly by the opening of a Radisson Blu in Upper Hill, Nairobi, in early 2014. There is also talk about Lonrho Hotels opening one of its premium Lansmore-branded hotels.

Another big international chain has recognized the Kenyan capital’s potential; Best Western International has opened its first hotel in Nairobi, the Best Western Premier Nairobi Hotel. The hotel has 96 rooms, ‘modern technical amenities and fresh interiors.’ There are also six luxury suites and three executive meeting rooms, which can be combined into one large conference hall, a business center and café, fitness center and a rooftop infinity pool with ‘spectacular views of the Nairobi skyline and Ngong Hills.’

Best Western now has 11 hotels in Africa, as part of a concerted effort to establish a footprint in the region. And it’s not done just yet. Upcoming openings scheduled for 2013 include another Kenyan property, this one in Mombasa, as well as hotels in Benin, Ghana and Nigeria, while 2014’s scheduled openings look like this: Addis Ababa (a Best Western and a Best Western Plus), Lagos and Abuja (Nigeria).

Never mind the host of new hotels opening in Nairobi, the city is already long on 5-star properties, with plenty of international brands. According to Chris Schuitmaker, manager, regional business and partner management Africa for HRG Rennies, there are three 5-star hotels to look out for: the Sankara Nairobi in Westlands, and the InterContinental and the Serena in the CBD. From a 4-star perspective, he recommends the Sarova Stanley, the Crowne Plaza, the Hilton (CBD), the Southern Sun (Westlands), the Ole Sereni (Mombasa Road, close to the airport), and the Sarova Panafric (CBD).

“There are a lot of hotels to choose from,” says Trevor Ward, managing director of W Hospitality Group. “In the CBD, the InterContinental and the Laico Regency are the two main ones, and the new Crowne Plaza on Upper Hill is getting good reviews.”

“My hotel of preference is the Tribe hotel,” says Marc de Jager, global alliance manager for Travel with Flair. “The facilities are fantastic and the rooms are spacious and very neat. It has a gym, as well as a spa and great meeting rooms. It is quite a drive from the airport (25 miles), but definitely worth it. Another favorite is Fairmont The Norfolk in the city, which is great for getting in and out to business meetings. The rooms are very spacious, the food is out of this world and it is a true 5-star experience.”

“I always stay at the Hilton for convenience,” says Stuart Young, director of news and programs for Continental Broadcasting Service in Lagos. “It’s a downtown location and is good for meetings, with spacious executive floor rooms, as well. It also has a nice bar which does good food. The Italian restaurant is expensive, but OK, whilst the pool restaurant is good value.”

There was some interesting hotel news out of South Africa in 2012, with the City Lodge Hotels Group announcing that it had reached an agreement with the shareholders of Fairview Hotel Limited to acquire a 50 percent stake in that company, which owns and operates two hotels in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi. They are the 120-room Fairview Hotel and the adjacent 84-room Country Lodge. City Lodge plans to explore further expansion opportunities in East Africa, with the initial focus on Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.  

— Dylan Rogers

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