|A Micato Safaris traveler is welcomed by a group of young Maasai.|
Just a few years ago, Kenya’s tourism scene was struggling in the wake of a nationwide crisis that saw visitor numbers drop by more than 50 percent. But since then, the country has stepped up its marketing efforts—and visitors are responding.
Over the summer, Jennifer Opondo, head of marketing for the Kenya Tourist Board, visited Travel Agent’s New York offices along with several other members of the board. “Travel to Kenya remains strong and is the No. 2 source market, second only to the United Kingdom,” she said.
“From 2009 onward, total arrivals and U.S. arrivals to Kenya have demonstrated steady growth. By the close of 2011, more than 87 percent of source markets recovered fully and had surpassed 2010 levels.” Opondo also noted that tourism destinations across the country remain “unaffected, peaceful and safe. The Kenyan Government has increased its security surveillance and has assigned police officers to a 24-hour patrol across all accommodation facilities situated near the affected areas. It has also deployed police officers and 24-hour aerial surveillance along the Somali-Kenya border to ensure proper maintenance of security measures.”
|The leopard is one of the “Big Five” species found in the Maasai Mara.|
Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris, told Travel Agent that today’s traveler to Africa is “more savvy” about interpreting U.S. State Department alerts. “Travel agents and tour operators have done an excellent job of helping the consumer differentiate between levels of risk,” he said, noting that risk is “extremely low” in the game parks, which is where travelers spend virtually all their time.
Of course, not all development has been about safety and security. In the past year, several new hotels have opened, like the Impala Eco Lodge, run by the Kenya Wildlife Service on the shores of Lake Victoria. Situated outside the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary run by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the new eco-friendly lodge has 12 guest rooms—six executive rooms, four standard rooms and two family suites—each with views of Lake Victoria. (Executive rooms are the premier suites, with a private lounge, a dressing room and greater balcony access.) Activities include boating tours on Lake Victoria, picnicking on Ndere Island, hippo viewing, fishing and cycling. The Impala Eco Lodge is just five miles from the Kisumu International Airport.
Hemingways Nairobi, a boutique plantation-style property outside the capital city, is slated to open in November. Private butler service will be available, and the rooms all will have personalized bars. Segera, an eco-friendly property, will open in the Laikipia region around the same time.
Pinto noted that Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri camp in the Maasai Mara is scheduled to open in 2013, as will Jochen Zeitz’s (of Puma fame) Segera Camp. “Additionally, major hotel groups like Four Seasons have entered the region; in the case of Four Seasons, the first property is in the Serengeti, with additional units being considered for both Kenya and Tanzania.”
Where to Go
Kenya is famous for its wildlife and carefully preserved natural landscape. And rightly so: The country has over 50 parks and reserves that are good for hiking, game viewing and other outdoor activities. Several areas are ideal for solo travelers, families and couples.
The Maasai Mara is great for families, with many family-friendly properties and plenty of game viewing. The Mara is also a must for anyone wanting to see the “Big Five” (rhinoceros, lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo), especially from July through October when the Great Migration takes place. Samburu National Park is also a good “off-the-beaten-track” location, and Opondo recommended visiting the Kenyan coast to experience authentic Swahili culture. Mount Kenya is good for adventure enthusiasts looking to hike or mountain-climb, and couples and honeymooners can relax for a couple of days after their safaris at Lamu or Diani Beach.
For golfers, Kenya has more than 30 golf courses in the most scenic locations around the country.
In May, Virgin Atlantic announced it would be canceling its flights between Nairobi and London, reportedly as a result of increasing fuel costs and rising Air Passenger Duty (APD). The last flight on the route was in late September.
But there’s good news, too: South African Airways has increased its flight frequency to Nairobi from Johannesburg, South Africa, adding three more flights into Kenya’s capital and increasing the number of flights to Nairobi from seven to 10 per week.
And Kenya’s national carrier, Kenya Airways, recently announced its plans to open new projected routes around the country, both regionally and internationally. In addition to flying daily to Kisumu and Mombasa, the airline plans to establish flights to the North Rift town of Eldoret and the coastal village of Lamu. The airline also launched new direct routes to New Delhi.