Harrison Kivisu, Peter Leshan and Harriet James @PeopleDailyKe
Major hotels and lodges across the country confirm they are already fully booked for Christmas as excitement builds over unexpected November tourism arrivals.
Several hotels in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, which normally close and sends staff home during the short October- November low season, have remained open since September as tourists from several countries flock in to take advantage of low-season offers.
Ongoing rains in the Mara and a decision by Narok county government to keep out herders from grazing in the park has slowed down the wildebeest from leaving for Tanzania, attracting predators and tourists.
Added to this is the immediate impact of the new Kenya Airways (KQ) direct flights from New York to Nairobi, which is already delivering American tourists to the Mara.
According to Wilson Odhiambo, general manager at Mahali Mzuri camp in the reserve, tourists from the US have started arriving at the lodge via KQ flights. “Our Christmas is fully booked, but sadly no Kenyan has booked with us,” he says.
Geoff Mayes, Tourism Manager at Chui and Kiangazi Lodges in Lake Naivasha, says the two hotels are always fully booked for Christmas months in advance.
Located in Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary and associated with the Oserian Flower Farm, the two sister lodges offer special family activities over the festive season, including bush brunches and sundowners.
“It is typically families that book and usually spend at least three nights with us. Our guests are a mixture of residents and non-residents but we still have limited space available over New Year’s Eve,” says Mayes.
During the annual Getaway Tourism Trade Fair held at the Sarit Centre in Nairobi last weekend, most hotels and airlines staff said they were already fully booked for Christmas in January.
Donna Perret, owner and host at Ekorian Mugie camp in Laikipia county said the camp was also already fully booked for Christmas, mostly by overseas guests. “Kenyans are always inquiring but it’s always last-minute bookings while foreign guests plan way ahead of time,” she said.
At the Coast, the hospitality industry is cashing in as the traditional low tourism season (October-November) steadily picks up due to increased arrivals from both local and international tourists.
According to Sabine Pruess, sales and marketing manager at Turtle Bay Resort in North Coast, they had recorded full Christmas bookings were only taking reservations for next year at the expo.
Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi says the sector, strongly built by the leisure and hospitality industry, is gaining momentum, with several hotels in the region registering increased bookings.
“We are looking forward to a very thriving business before the year ends. Already, hotels have started enjoying business ahead of the end-year festivities,” says Hersi.
Travellers Beach Resort, for example, is registering 72 per cent bookings. According to the marketing manager Wafula Waswa, the hotel is readying itself for brisk business after early closure of schools and corporate end-year events, which also coincide with high Christmas season.
“We are optimistic that by December, we will be 100 per cent booked. The industry is promising especially now we do not have politics and insecurity threats at the Coast,” said Waswa.
PrideInn Hotels Managing Director Hasnain Noorani said peaceful environment experienced in the country and enhanced security have greatly bolstered the Coast hospitality industry. Last year, prolonged electioneering and travel advisories slowed down arrivals.
“This year, the industry has experienced a conducive business environment with infrequent political shenanigans, after the most talked about handshake between President Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
There has been a peaceful business environment while confidence in the country’s tightened security is also an assurance of tourism growth,” said Noorani.
Meanwhile, the government will review a charter incentives programme to incorporate low-cost carriers and scheduled flights in order to boost tourist numbers into the country.
Currently, the charter model only works in Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries, leaving out other key tourist source markets for Kenya.
“This move will not only strengthen our destination’s brand visibility as a whole in the source markets but increase visitor numbers. It will allow us to venture into joint marketing initiatives with the airline operator and the travel agents’ consortia,” says Tourism PS Joe Okudo.
The PS spoke in a speech read on his behalf by KTB Regional Marketing Manager Jonathan Mbiyu during the reception of a LOT Polish charter flight from Poland, carrying 252 visitors last weekend.
The charter will be flying to Mombasa twice a week, translating to about 500 visitors every week. “Within the charter period (November to March 2019), we will have received about 8,000 passengers, a major boost to the tourist numbers into the region,” said the PS.