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Politics blanket Mt Kenya’s lofty peaks

Seth Mwaniki @@MwanikiM

The thick mist enveloping Kenya’s political scene has temporarily covered the tourism attractions of Mt Kenya region in the last few months. This has made the sight of foreign currency rare to the investors in tourism industry around the region.

Tourists started avoiding the region as the August 8 poll approached but the annulment of the Presidential results by the Supreme Court on September 1 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bookings in hotels have plummeted, leading to unprecedented financial losses.

“It’s no secret that we have suffered a 30 per cent dip in earnings due to cancelled or rescheduled visits to our facility,” said the Director at Tafaria Castle and Country Lodge, Gilbert Karweru. He said bookings at the facility before the Supreme Court ruling were later cancelled, as many potential guests feared the unknown.

“We are experiencing a very tough season and we only wish that things will normalise soon,” he said. Susan Kimotho, the proprietor of Tandala Lounge in the outskirts of Nanyuki town, says her business is worse than she had ever imagined.

“Circumstances have forced me to close the facility as I cannot continue paying workers without generating any income due to zero bed occupancy,” she said.

Kimotho regrets she has received calls from abroad from clients who made booking prior to the Supreme Court ruling who have now indicated they will delay their visit over their personal safety concerns. “This is a sad moment for us in the industry but I am optimistic that business will be back after the elections,” she says.

White settlers and guests in Mt Kenya region enjoy a morning ride on horseback. Laikipia county hosts many settlers, some of whom relocated from UK and Zibambwe to invest in wildlife conservancies, a major tourist attraction in the region. Photo/PAUL WANJIRU

A source at one of the tour firms based in Nairobi, which frequently operates tours around Mt Kenya, admits that business has been on a downward spiral.

The source, who requested that he and his firm not be named, decried the low number of clients wiling to travel in the current political environment.

“Things are bad but are even being made worse by demonstrations against IEBC. Tourists, especially foreign ones, cannot gamble their own safety and hence cannot travel during such moments,” the source says. Wachira Magachi, the proprietor of Wamagach Kahuwa-ini Hotel that runs multiple cottages in Mukurwe-ini sub-county, has also felt the pinch.

Wachira says the bookings were not so badly off before the August 8 elections as they are now, noting that local and foreign tourists have shelved travel plans.

“It is not lost on us that we run a very delicate sector that is highly sensitive to any single move that threatens the general civil order. However, we will soon recover,” Wachira says.

Mount Kenya Tourism Circuit Secretary Charles Karuga says it is not easy to establish the flow of tourist business in the region due to lack of proper mechanisms for gathering data.

He nevertheless says that facilities in Nyeri county may not be undergoing ‘a hell of a season’ as in other counties because the county mostly facilitates transit to destinations such as Meru, Samburu and Nakuru.

“Of course, there are challenges due to politics. Some operators are greatly affected but the extent may not be so great in Nyeri county,” he says. Mount Kenya region has attractive sites for tourists such as Mount Kenya National Park and Reserve, Aberdare National Park, Mount Kilimambogo, Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, Meru National Park and Solio Game Reserve.

Popular activities here include hiking, mountain climbing, cycling, game drives in national parks, viewing animals at salt pans and kayaking on River Sagana on the boundary of Kirinyaga and Murang’a counties.

Most of these investors have seen bookings in hotels go down, leading to unprecedented plummeting of income, thus dealing a blow to their financial status and consequently denting the country’s economy. Karweru of Tafaria regrets that the industry’s investors and managers have absolutely no control over politics, saying that had they the ability, they would immediately address it.

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