Green City in the Sun

As global busi­ness dis­cov­ers the op­por­tu­ni­ties of Nairobi, Kenya’s cap­i­tal is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a hos­pi­tal­ity boom

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Dy­lan Rogers

As global busi­ness dis­cov­ers the op­por­tu­ni­ties of Nairobi, Kenya’s cap­i­tal is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a hos­pi­tal­ity boom

As the eco­nomic gi­ant of East Africa, Kenya is a key busi­ness travel desti­na­tion in its own right, and its cap­i­tal Nairobi is the gate­way. But be­yond the na­tional in­ter­ests, Nairobi is a step­ping-stone into re­source-rich Cen­tral Africa. With few min­eral re­sources of its own to rely on, Kenya’s econ­omy is more widely diver­si­fied than many other African coun­tries, of­fer­ing a host of op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­trepreneurs. Ev­ery­thing from agri­cul­ture and tourism to man­u­fac­tur­ing and ship re­pair con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s re­spectable 5 per­cent an­nual growth in eco­nomic out­put.

“There is def­i­nitely growth in the ser­vice in­dus­tries as well,” says Paul Nor­man, gen­eral man­ager of South­ern Sun May­fair Nairobi. “Bank­ing, for ex­am­ple. Re­tail is also grow­ing. There will be in­creased busi­ness ac­tiv­ity in the fu­ture in the tech­no­log­i­cal sec­tor. Sam­sung has just an­nounced an as­sem­bly plant here, for ex­am­ple.”

But, deep-rooted cor­rup­tion across all lev­els of gov­ern­ment – along with long pe­ri­ods of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, and more re­cently ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence – have ham­strung what should be one of the strong­est economies in Africa, and af­fected busi­ness travel to Kenya.

“Vi­o­lence that erupted around the elec­tion in late 2007 and early 2008 had an im­pact on the travel and in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in Kenya,” says Michella Web­ster, head of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa at Wings Travel Man­age­ment. “Tourism is a vi­tal sec­tor and it suf­fered se­verely af­ter the 2007 elec­tion,” Web­ster adds.

Kenya’s cit­i­zens and those with busi­ness travel in­ter­ests in the coun­try can hardly be faulted for cau­tion, es­pe­cially in the wake

Con­fi­dence in Nairobi’s fu­ture is ev­i­denced by the big ho­tel projects pop­ping up all over the boom­ing sky­line

of the re­cent at­tack at Nairobi’s West­gate Mall. The 80-hour stand­off, in which at least 67 died, has left the coun­try shaken. But the signs are pos­i­tive that the tragic event is be­ing dealt with, and Nairobi and the en­tire coun­try is re­gain­ing its con­fi­dence.

Get­ting In, Out and Around

From its snow-cov­ered moun­tain peaks to the shores of Lake Vic­to­ria, and across miles of sa­van­nah and desert, Kenya is a coun­try with rich diver­sity, both of land­scape and nat­u­ral abun­dance. How­ever, as Africa con­tin­ues to flex its eco­nomic mus­cle on the world stage, th­ese as­sets are only go­ing to be en­hanced as the coun­try con­tin­ues its rapid de­vel­op­ment as a prime por­tal for busi­ness travel.

“Kenya’s key ge­o­graphic po­si­tion, in­fra­struc­ture and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions all work to po­si­tion it as a fa­vor­able lo­ca­tion for in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions want­ing to re­lo­cate or ex­pand into the re­gion,” says Web­ster. “Kenya also of­fers easy ac­cess to the East African mar­kets such as Tan­za­nia, Uganda, Rwanda and Zam­bia.”

Web­ster is right, and the road ahead for Kenya, and Nairobi in par­tic­u­lar as a busi­ness travel desti­na­tion, looks rosy. That’s if the coun­try can achieve and main­tain po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. As it stands, that ap­pears the only re­al­is­tic ob­sta­cle to sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic growth.

Un­bounded Po­ten­tial

In­ter­na­tional flights land at Jomo Kenyatta Air­port (NBO), lo­cated 10 miles be­yond the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict on the road to Mom­basa. Wil­son Air­port (WIL) is sit­u­ated closer to the CBD, and of­fers both do­mes­tic ser­vices and char­ter flights.

NBO is get­ting a badly needed facelift es­pe­cially af­ter the re­cent fire in its in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals ter­mi­nal this past sum­mer. It’s cur­rently un­der­go­ing a ma­jor over­haul, in­clud­ing the build­ing of a sec­ond run­way, con­struc­tion of a new ter­mi­nal and park­ing garage and gen­eral ren­o­va­tion of ex­ist­ing air­port fa­cil­i­ties. “I can’t wait for the re­de­vel­op­ment to be com­plete,”says Nor­man.

If you have more than a few hours to wait, it’s worth pay­ing for ac­cess to the Busi­ness Class lounge says Marc de Jager, global al­liance man­ager for Travel with Flair.“It’s very busy all the time, so if you

have a long con­nec­tion it is def­i­nitely ad­vis­able to have lounge ac­cess.”

How­ever, if your trav­els take you into Nairobi proper, there are some tricks to get­ting around the city. Un­less you’re made of sterner stuff, you’ll want to avoid rent­ing a car in Nairobi; taxis are read­ily avail­able from the air­port and ho­tels. Re­mem­ber to ne­go­ti­ate a fare up front. Lo­cal ‘matatu’ minibus taxis are pop­u­lar with lo­cals, but aren’t ideal for get­ting to meet­ings on time. When go­ing out at night, it’s best to ask your ho­tel to call a taxi.

“I al­ways pre­fer to ar­range a trans­fer be­fore­hand, but there are air­port-sanc­tioned taxis just out­side the ter­mi­nal build­ing. It usu­ally costs around $15 - $35 de­pend­ing on where you are go­ing,” De Jager says.

Stay­ing Awhile

Con­fi­dence in Nairobi’s fu­ture is ev­i­denced by the big ho­tel projects pop­ping up all over the boom­ing sky­line. Kempin­ski has made the move into East Africa with the Villa Rosa. Strate­gi­cally placed on the main route be­tween the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict and the emerg­ing West­lands sub­urb, the ho­tel’s no­tice­able pink façade is quickly be­com­ing a land­mark.

Among the newer en­trants is Hem­ing­ways Nairobi, a mem­ber of the Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World. This 45-room bou­tique is sit­u­ated in Nairobi’s Karen res­i­den­tial area. Asian hos­pi­tal­ity group Dusit In­ter­na­tional is set to open its new DusitD2 prop­erty any time now. Th­ese

Jomo Kenyatta Air­port is get­ting a badly needed facelift, in­clud­ing a sec­ond run­way, a new ter­mi­nal and gen­eral ren­o­va­tion

new­com­ers are ex­pected to be fol­lowed shortly by the open­ing of a Radis­son Blu in Up­per Hill, Nairobi, in early 2014. There is also talk about Lon­rho Ho­tels open­ing one of its pre­mium Lans­more-branded ho­tels.

Another big in­ter­na­tional chain has rec­og­nized the Kenyan cap­i­tal’s po­ten­tial; Best Western In­ter­na­tional has opened its first ho­tel in Nairobi, the Best Western Pre­mier Nairobi Ho­tel. The ho­tel has 96 rooms, ‘mod­ern tech­ni­cal ameni­ties and fresh in­te­ri­ors.’ There are also six lux­ury suites and three ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing rooms, which can be com­bined into one large con­fer­ence hall, a busi­ness center and café, fit­ness center and a rooftop in­fin­ity pool with ‘spec­tac­u­lar views of the Nairobi sky­line and Ngong Hills.’

Best Western now has 11 ho­tels in Africa, as part of a con­certed ef­fort to es­tab­lish a foot­print in the re­gion. And it’s not done just yet. Up­com­ing open­ings sched­uled for 2013 in­clude another Kenyan prop­erty, this one in Mom­basa, as well as ho­tels in Benin, Ghana and Nige­ria, while 2014’s sched­uled open­ings look like this: Ad­dis

Ababa (a Best Western and a Best Western Plus), La­gos and Abuja (Nige­ria).

Never mind the host of new ho­tels open­ing in Nairobi, the city is al­ready long on 5-star prop­er­ties, with plenty of in­ter­na­tional brands. Ac­cord­ing to Chris Schuit­maker, man­ager, re­gional busi­ness and part­ner man­age­ment Africa for HRG Ren­nies, there are three 5-star ho­tels to look out for: the Sankara Nairobi in West­lands, and the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal and the Ser­ena in the CBD. From a 4-star per­spec­tive, he rec­om­mends the Sarova Stan­ley, the Crowne Plaza, the Hil­ton (CBD), the South­ern Sun (West­lands), the Ole Sereni (Mom­basa Road, close to the air­port), and the Sarova Panafric (CBD).

“There are a lot of ho­tels to choose from,”says Trevor Ward, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of W Hos­pi­tal­ity Group. “In the CBD, the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal and the Laico Re­gency are the two main ones, and the new Crowne Plaza on Up­per Hill is get­ting good re­views.”

“My ho­tel of pref­er­ence is the Tribe ho­tel,” says Marc de Jager, global al­liance man­ager for Travel with Flair. “The fa­cil­i­ties are fan­tas­tic and the rooms are spa­cious and very neat. It has a gym, as well as a spa and great meet­ing rooms. It is quite a drive from the air­port (25 miles), but def­i­nitely worth it. Another fa­vorite is Fair­mont The Nor­folk in the city, which is great for get­ting in and out to busi­ness meet­ings. The rooms are very spa­cious, the food is out of this world and it is a true 5-star ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“I al­ways stay at the Hil­ton for con­ve­nience,” says Stu­ar­tYoung, di­rec­tor of news and pro­grams for Con­ti­nen­tal Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice in La­gos. “It’s a down­town lo­ca­tion and is good for meet­ings, with spa­cious ex­ec­u­tive floor rooms, as well. It also has a nice bar which does good food. The Ital­ian restau­rant is ex­pen­sive, but OK, whilst the pool restau­rant is good value.”

There was some in­ter­est­ing ho­tel news out of South Africa in 2012, with the City Lodge Ho­tels Group an­nounc­ing that it had reached an agree­ment with the share­hold­ers of Fairview Ho­tel Lim­ited to ac­quire a 50 per­cent stake in that com­pany, which owns and op­er­ates two ho­tels in the Up­per Hill area of Nairobi. They are the 120-room Fairview Ho­tel and the ad­ja­cent 84-room Coun­try Lodge. City Lodge plans to ex­plore fur­ther ex­pan­sion op­por­tu­ni­ties in East Africa, with the ini­tial fo­cus on Kenya, Tan­za­nia, Rwanda and Uganda.

Sankara Nairobi

2013 Villa Rosa Kempin­ski Nairobi

Crowne Plaza

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