Kenya is the biggest economy in East and Central Africa, and after a difficult few years is starting to once again assert itself as a major business travel player, despite the challenges it faces.
Those difficult few years were mainly as a result of persistent terrorist activity and a hangover from the 2014 Ebola crisis. Safety aside, Kenya has faced other challenges more recently, in the form of issues such as corruption and high unemployment.
But the government has big plans, in the form of its Vision 2030 (see below), which is “the national long-term development policy that aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.”
As the capital and economic centre, Nairobi is front and centre of that ambitious vision.
Further to that, Kenya has already built a reputation as one of Africa’s technology ‘hot spots’, and a key driver of Vision 2030 is the development of the Konza Technology City (see sidebar), about 60 kilometres south of Nairobi, towards Mombasa. Vision 2030 includes a target to transform Konza into a bustling city with 200,000 people working in business outsourcing in the next 20 years, with the larger goal of becoming a world class destination for tech business, education and research. It is expected to be complete by 2019.
So, big plans for Kenya and much of it running through Nairobi, as the country’s ‘nerve centre’.
Nairobi is the main business travel destination in Kenya and the capital city, surrounded by kilometres of plains, cliffs and forest that make up the city’s Nairobi National Park. It also features modern skyscrapers, quality restaurants, fully-equipped hospitals, modern shopping malls, and a number of schools.
In terms of layout, Nairobi has grown around its central business district. This takes a rectangular shape around the Uhuru Highway, Haille Selassie Avenue, Moi Avenue, and University Way. It features many of Nairobi’s important buildings, including the City Hall and Parliament building. The city square is also located within the perimeter.
Most of the skyscrapers in this region are the headquarters of businesses and corporations, such as the I&M Bank Tower and the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. The 1998 United States Embassy bombing took place in this district, prompting the building of a new embassy building in the suburbs.
Nairobi’s downtown area or CBD is bordered to the south-west by Uhuru Park and Central Park. The Mombasa to Kampala railway runs to the south-east of the district.
Today, many businesses are considering relocating and/or establishing their headquarters outside the CBD. This is because land is cheaper and better facilities can easily be built and maintained elsewhere. Two areas that are seeing a growth in companies and office space are Upper Hill, which is located approximately four kilometres from the CBD, and Westlands, which is about the same distance away from the city centre, just in a different direction.
Companies that have moved from the CBD to Upper Hill include Citibank and Coca-Cola, which in 2008 completed construction of its East and Central African headquarters, cementing the district as the one of the preferred locations for office space in Nairobi. The largest office development in this area is UAP Tower, a 33-storey office complex completed in 2015. That’s when it became the tallest structure in Kenya, surpassing Times Tower which had held that record for 15 years. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) are also located in Upper Hill.
AIRLINES & AIRPORTS
The revamped Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the main entry point, and offers domestic, regional and international flights and connections. The Mombasa Highway runs adjacent to the airport, and is the main route of access to the city.
JKIA has undergone plenty of change in the past four years, not only due to it approaching capacity and being rather outdated, but also due to a destructive fire in 2013. Subsequent rebuilding and refurbishment resulted in JKIA opening Terminal 4 – now Terminal 1A – in July of 2014. But Terminal 1A is JKIA’s only modern terminal and is currently occupied by Kenya Airways and its Sky Team partners.
The Kenyan government has recognised the fact that JKIA needs further upgrading to handle both arriving and departing passengers, with Transport Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera saying in late-2016 that the current airport design did not appeal to travellers and that the lack of amenities such as shops and hotels had dampened the airport experience.
In terms of transport from JKIA, it has numerous taxis and car rental services that operate 24 hours a day. A taxi ride to the city centre will cost you between $25 and $40. You can use your Visa, MasterCard and Maestro cards to draw money from ATMs available at the airport. There are also 24-hour banking services and forex bureaux.
With regards lounges, the end of 2014 saw two new lounges – Pride and Simba – opened in Terminal 1, for Kenya Airways Premier World and Sky Priority passengers from SkyTeam partner airlines. Both lounges offer free wi-fi, a sound-proof transit passenger sleeping area, dining lounge, washrooms and showers.
There are also lounges located airside that can be accessed by economy class passengers, for a fee or through a membership programme: Aspire Lounge ( Terminal 1B, opposite Gate 10, $30); Turkish Airlines Star Alliance Lounge (Terminal 1E, after Gate 3, $45, Priority Pass); Mara Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, $25, Priority Pass); Mount Kenya Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, $23, Priority Pass).
In terms of airlines, Kenya Airways has an extensive route network and offers connections from JKIA to most major African cities. It also offers direct services to the likes of France, the Netherlands and the UK in Europe, China, Vietnam and Thailand in Asia, and Dubai, whilst Jambojet, KQ’s low-cost subsidiary, flies to Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Malindi, Lamu and Diani in Kenya.
Fellow African big-hitters, SAA, Ethiopian Airlines and Air Mauritius, also fly in to Nairobi, whilst alternative European connections are provided by the likes of BA, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, SWISS, Air France and KLM. No surprise that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also all have Nairobi routes.
Nairobi offers a selection of high-quality hotels including many international brands, such as Radisson Blu, InterContinental, Hilton, Best Western, Fairmont, Kempinski and Crowne Plaza, as well as a number of very highly regarded local chains, such as Serena and Sarova Hotels.
The newest ‘kid on the block’ – in terms of internationally-branded hotels – is Carlson Rezidor’s Radisson Blu in Upper Hill, which opened late in 2015 with 271 guestrooms.
Even newer to the market is the Swiss International Lenana Nairobi, which is situated on Ralph Bunche road in Kilimani, and had a soft opening in December 2016. It has 135 rooms and suites, as well as a Swiss Café Restaurant & Lounge, two TED & Co Bar & Lounges, a Noodles & Rice Restaurant, six rooms for meetings and events, a pool, gym, a Swiss Select Lounge, and underground parking garage.
Fairmont’s The Norfolk Hotel has played a leading role in Kenya’s colourful history, and continues to be one of Nairobi’s finest and best-known hotels, boasting 170 guest rooms and suites, eight conference rooms, a heated outdoor swimming pool, health club with gym, sauna and steam room, gift shops, and its own private tropical gardens.
The InterContinental Nairobi is ideally located for business, close to the parliament buildings and CBD, and adjacent to Kenyatta International Convention Centre, as is the Laico Regency in the same area.
The Nairobi Serena is very popular and one of the old, established hotels in the city. It has a colonial feel, but has also kept pace with the times, and still offers a quality 5-star experience, along with a great location, should you need to be in close proximity to the city centre.
Also in the 5-star category are the Villa Rosa Kempinski and the dusitD2 nairobi, both of which opened in the past four years in close proximity to each other, between the CBD and Westlands.
There are a couple of ‘modern’ hotel options, in the form of the Tribe Hotel, which has received great reviews and looks to have some stunning facilities and rooms. Then there’s the Sankara Nairobi, which opened a couple of years ago and has become the standout hotel in the suburb of Westlands, where a lot of international businesses are relocating. The Sankara offering is nothing short of 5-star, with an eye-catching pool area, modern rooms, outstanding service and an inviting steakhouse. In a similar category is Hemingways in Karen, offering an exclusive, boutique 5-star experience.
Just a few hundred metres away from the Sankara is the Southern Sun Nairobi, a member of the South African Tsogo Sun Hotels group. Also in close proximity is the Concord Hotel & Suites, located on Wangapala Road and within walking distance of the Diamond Plaza Shopping Centre.
Competing with the new(ish) Radisson Blu in Upper Hill are the Crowne Plaza and the Fairview, which is a homely 4-star hotel now owned by South African group City Lodge. The Fairview also has what was previously known as the Country Lodge attached to it, and this hotel has been rebranded as a Town Lodge, which is City Lodge’s 2-star brand.
The Best Western Premier opened in 2013 – the international group’s first property in Nairobi – and offers 96 4-star rooms in Upper Hill Estate, with free wi-fi, a health club and three restaurants.
This property was followed onto the Nairobi market by the Best Western Plus Meridian Hotel and the Executive Residency by Best Western Nairobi, which caters more to the long-stay market and gives Best Western a different option and broader overall Nairobi offering. The property consists of 48 non-smoking one and two-bedroom apartments. Each apartment is fully equipped with a kitchen, dining room, living room, high-speed internet access, flat screen TV, work desk area, and daily housekeeping services. Guests can also make use of a fitness centre and an indoor heated swimming pool, whilst the Slate meeting room can accommodate up to 60 people for business meetings, corporate training and product launches. The Grove Restaurant located on the rooftop offers views of the city.
Another hotel worth noting is the Sarova Stanley, whilst the Ole Sereni is arguably the best hotel on the airport road, and just 10 minutes from Jomo Kenyatta International. It overlooks the national park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see game roaming on the other side of the fence. It also has a bar and pool area overlooking the park, very comfortable rooms and stunning food.
Also on the airport road are the Panari Hotel and the pair of the Eka Hotel and The Boma Hotel.
All of these hotels in close proximity to the airport will receive some competition in 2017 when Hilton opens its new Hilton Garden Inn Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Starwood (Marriott) unveils the Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport. At last glance, the Hilton property was expected to open around mid-2017 and the Starwood property by around October.
At the time of going to press, Starwood also due to open another Four Points property in Nairobi in April.
Also beefing up its Nairobi presence is Best Western. The international group plans to open the BW Premier Collection The Alba in Nairobi in the third quarter of 2017, whilst City Lodge is also set to add to its small portfolio in 2017 with its Two Rivers property. It will feature 172 rooms.
Further down the line, Hilton plans to open the $110 million Hilton Nairobi Upper Hill in 2020. The 255-room property will be the brand’s 50th in Africa and will have an executive lounge and five food and beverage outlets, including a poolside bar, smokehouse and grill restaurant, lobby dining area with landscaped deck, and a rooftop bar on the 43rd level with views of Nairobi. The hotel will also have a ballroom and meeting rooms of approximately 1,400m2.
“Hilton Nairobi Upper Hill and the larger mixed-use development, which will include a residential, retail and entertainment complex, as well as an adjacent office tower, will be Africa’s tallest building, standing at 330 metres,” said Mahat Noor, Project Director of Jabavu Village, one of the developers.
Also down the line, Mumbai-based hotelier Sarovar plans to open its first-ever budget hotel under the Hometel brand in Nairobi after signing a deal with a city lawyer to put up the facility. The upcoming Tetezi Hometel Nairobi will target business travellers and holidaymakers on a shoestring budget. Sarovar will manage the hotel’s day-to-day operations and the 80-room hotel will be located on Riverside Drive. Its construction has already started, with the opening set for 2019.
“There is a growing demand for good value for money hotels across the country and abroad. This is the largest demand segment. We aim to cater to these markets with our hotels by offering best value to business and leisure travellers,” said Ajay Bakaya, Managing Director at Sarovar Hotels.
“Tetezi Hometel Nairobi will be the first in Africa,” he said, adding that the “brand delivers profitable hotels to owners.”
The budget hotel will bring to four the total number of properties managed by Sarovar in Kenya, including the Heron Portico and Zehneria Portico.
Sarovar also plans to open the Lazizi Premiere near Jomo Kenyatta International Airport before the middle of the year. The Indian hotelier has three brands: Premiere (luxury), Portico (midscale) and budget offering Hometel. There are 10 Hometel hotels worldwide.
Visa exemptions are applied to nationals of the following African countries: Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africans are limited to 30-day visa-free stays, and longer visits require a visa.
In 2015 Kenya stopped issuing visas on arrival. Visitors are now required to purchase a visa online in advance of travel and will be asked to produce a printed copy of the e-Visa upon check-in, without which they will not be permitted entry into Kenya. Alternatively, travellers can also contact their nearest Kenyan embassy, high commission or consulate to arrange a visa. Travel agents or tour operators will be able to register and make visa applications on their clients’ behalf. An e-Visa will be valid for 90 days from the date of approval and not from the date of arrival in Kenya.
Nairobi has a subtropical highland climate. At 1,795 metres (5,889 feet) above sea level, evenings may be cool, especially in the June/July season, when the temperature can drop to 9°C (48°F). The sunniest and warmest part of the year is from December to March, when temperatures average the mid-twenties during the day. The mean maximum temperature for this period is 24°C (75°F). There are two rainy seasons, but rainfall can be moderate. The cloudiest part of the year is just after the first rainy season, when, until September, conditions are usually overcast with drizzle. As Nairobi is situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are minimal. The seasons are referred to as the wet season and dry season. The timing of sunrise and sunset varies little throughout the year for the same reason.
Time zone: GMT+3
Plugs: UK-type square three-pin
Dialing code: +254
Currency: Kenyan shilling – $1=102KES
Language: English and Kiswahili
The Kenya Vision 2030 is the national long-term development policy that “aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.” The Vision comprises three key pillars: Economic; Social; and Political. The Economic Pillar aims to achieve an average economic growth rate of 10% per annum, with the goal of sustaining that until 2030. The Social Pillar seeks to engender just, cohesive and equitable social development in a clean and secure environment, while the Political Pillar aims to realize an issue-based, people-centered, result-oriented and accountable democratic system. The three pillars are anchored on the foundations of macroeconomic stability; infrastructural development; science, technology and innovation; land reform; human resources development; security and public sector reform.
Konza Techno City
Konza Technology City is a large technology hub planned by the government of Kenya to be built about 60 kilometres from Nairobi on the way to Mombasa at the coast. Konza Technology City is a business process outsourcing project that is being marketed by the Kenyan government through the Kenya ICT Board. According to the Konza Techno City information website, the project wants to attract business process outsourcing, software development, data centres, disaster recovery centres, call centres, light assembly manufacturing industries, hotels, residential areas, schools, hospitals and universities, with at least one focused on research and technology. It is also intended to include a science park, a convention centre, shopping malls, and a health facility. Konza Techno City is being marketed as a key driver of Kenya’s Vision 2030, although there are concerns regarding the progress of the project. Former president Mwai Kibaki launched the project in 2013, but with the change of government, progress appeared to slow. Further to that, some say the $14.5 billion investment in building the city should, at least partly go towards funding local Kenya start-ups. Other critics say Konza is located too far from Nairobi. It was hoped that December’s launch of a five-year strategic plan by Konza Technopolis Development Authority would get the project back on its feet.