James Murimi @Jamesmurymy
Businessman Richard Mburu Kamau, 55, is lost in a wistful flashback as he reminisces how he rose from a humble beginning to own a fully-fledged empire of hotels in Kenya. When we met him recently, Mburu was gazing at pelican birds as they swam at Lake Elementaita in Nakuru county. He was at his Pelican Lodge located along the shores of the lake.
His journey, he narrates, started in 1999 when he started Primetime Safaris Tour Company in Nairobi. He had only Sh300,000 to purchase few office stationery and pay rent for a one-roomed office.
By then, he had one vehicle and had to hire two employees to help him in sourcing for vehicles in a bid to satisfy the demand of clients who came mainly from Britain, America, Australia and Germany.
His family was his only fortress as he strived to satisfy the growing demand of tourists by ferrying them to beautiful sceneries in Maasai Mara, Samburu, Amboseli, Baringo, Bogoria and Serengeti, Manyara, Ngorongoro in Tanzania.
“Those were the good old days when tourism was booming. In partnership with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), I used to travel to America, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Hong Kong to market tourism destinations in Kenya,” says the father of three.
He continues: “We also had a unique route called the ‘Turkana expedition’ that was starting from Nairobi to Samburu-Loyangalani-Maralal-Baringo and then back to Nairobi.” Mburu’s company grew tremendously and gave birth to the renowned Ol Moran Tented Camp in Maasai Mara.
He ran the prestigious tented camp for nine years until he opted to start Pelican Lodge in 2009. When he came up with the idea of setting up a lodge at Lake Elementaita, many people thought he was out of his mind. But undeterred, he bought 10 acres of land at Sh10 million where he set up the magnificent facility whose name is derived from the flock of pelican birds that reside in the lake.
“I noticed that this lake is a world heritage site, but people thought I was dreaming. My dream is valid because an acre of land along this shore now costs Sh11 million,” he says.
Since then, business flourished over the years until he decided to concentrate on tapping the local market by investing in conferencing, getaways and weddings. Mburu realised that there was a huge demand for the rare services in Nairobi and that many guests were overflowing to upcountry.
The lodge has 60 rooms to comfortably accommodate 120 guests while the conference halls host over 280 visitors. At the spacious lodge, tourists enjoy seeing pelican, flamingos among other hundreds of bird species. The lake also has a family of hippopotamus that makes the scenery more captivating.
Despite owning Primetime Safaris Tour Company, Ol Moran Tented Camp in Maasai Mara and Pelican Lodge in Elementaita that has many employees, Mburu still recalls that he was among the first pupils to join Tandare Primary School in Ng’arua, Laikipia county, where he was born and raised.
He went to Kiambu High School and later proceeded to Nagpur University in India where he pursued Bachelor degree in Commerce (Accounts and Economics). Mburu then pursued Certified Public Accountant (CPA) course at Strathmore University before venturing into an array of businesses that flopped.
“Before joining the hotel industry, I was doing some businesses which as far as I was concerned were just a learning experience,” he says. Mburu notes that he was motivated to invest in the hospitality industry due to Kenya’s uniqueness as a tourism destination.
“Most people do not understand that the climatic condition of Kenya is so diverse. Kenya is still untouched and natural in so many areas,” says Mburu. Mburu has been in the industry for the last 16 years and is expecting to have his investments among the top tourism destinations in the country in the next five years.