I just came from a lovely chat with Jennifer Opondo, director of marketing for the Kenya Tourist Board (pictured in the middle at right--the pale girl on the left is me, in serious need of makeup, and the woman in the right is Megan Meers, one of our sales directors). When I asked her what agents need to know in order to properly sell Kenya, she paused for a moment before saying that the country offers a wide range of experiences, from the Cradle of Mankind to the wilds of the Maasi Mara to the sophisticated culture of Nairobi.
In the national parks and reserves, she said, there is a wide range of wildlife in a remarkably small range of space, making it easy for visitors to see plenty of animals without having to venture very far.
Beyond the Masai Mara, she said, visitors in the northern part of Kenya should visit the Great Rift Valley, which beyond being a natural wonder is also home to 30 percent of the world's pink flamingos. (The real ones; not the plastic things you see on lawns.)
Wellness travel has become popular in Kenya, she added, with lots of development in terms of boutique luxury lodges and spas in the wild. Visitors can be, as she calls is, "soft-active," going on walking or horseback safaris to get some low-impact exercise while enjoying the wildlife. For something a bit more energetic, the Lewa Marathon is an annual fundraiser that lets runners race through the wilderness...often with animals running beside them. (Quite appropriately, a Kenyan woman just won the New York City Marathon. If you can run with the big cats, city streets are nothing.) Best of all: Funds raised at the marathon go to support local hospitals and schools.
Kenya's coast is also worth checking out with what Opondo calls a "mosaic" of cultural influences: Spanish, Portuguese, English and Arabic among them. Notable among the coastal attractions is Lamu Island, reportedly a popular destination for Bill Gates, the late Michael Jackson and other celebs. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and no motorized vehicles are allowed. The buildings have classic Swahili architecture, and the elaborately carved wooden doorways are a notable attraction for art fans. (Visitors can take carving classes that can last for weeks or a year, Opondo said.)
A popular resort on the island is Kipungani Explorer, which Opondo says has a 1:1 Guest:Staff ratio. With a capacity of just 20 in 13 luxury tents, guests can easily avoid other visitors and imagine that they have the resort to themselves. Look for more information on Lamu Island in an upcoming issue of Luxury Travel Advisor.
The View from the Kenya Tourism Board Tent at World Travel Market
For those who want a more urban escape, Opondo talked about the "Nairobi Chic" trend that has come up in the capital city, with plenty of shopping, dining and nightlife to keep visitors entertained. Best of all, the city has a national park within its borders, so visitors can look at wild lions with skyscrapers behind them. For a unique experiences, visitors can combine golfing with a safari, and play a round on Mt. Kenya itself. (The altitude, she added, adds 10 yards to each swing.)