Hip and Happening

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As the economic giant of East Africa, Kenya is a key business travel destination in its own right and a stepping-stone into Central Africa, with new hotels going up in Nairobi and the world’s big airlines clambering to get their hands on a Kenya route. Dylan Rogers takes a look at some of the factors in Kenya’s success, as well as some of the latest developments on the business travel scene.

With few mineral resources 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% annual growth in GDP.

“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 with new shopping malls recently completed and more under construction. There will be increased business activity in the future in the technological sector. Samsung have just announced an assembly plant here, for example.”  

But, deep-rooted corruption across all levels of government – along with long periods of political turmoil – 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. “Things in the region stabilised for a while, but when preparations started for the 2013 elections, fear grew that there would be a repeat of the violence. This again made it a risky environment in which to do business.”

That violence Webster refers to left more than 1,200 dead in 2008, and fortunately there has been relatively little unrest in comparison, although the recent election was not without controversy or violence. New president Uhuru Kenyatta was forced to turn to the courts to have his election to office confirmed. After a closely-fought election, which saw Kenyatta edge out rival Raila Odinga by 50.07% to 43.28%, Odinga lodged an appeal, before the Kenyan Supreme Court found in Kenyatta’s favour.

On the day of the decision, two people died and 11 were hurt as Odinga supporters clashed with police in his western stronghold of Kisumu. Outside the courthouse itself, police used tear gas to chase away people protesting against the ruling, but the area eventually quietened down. Investors in Kenya and those with business travel interests in the country will be hoping for more of that ‘quiet’. But the signs are positive and Kenya has shown a higher level of democracy, which can only be good for investment confidence.

“Tourism is a vital sector and it suffered severely after the 2007 election,” says Webster. “It’s interesting to note that Kenyatta is an insider of the tourism industry – his family owns a hotel group, and he once served as chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.”

Business Travel Activity
If one looks at the last year or so, there has been much activity in the airline space, kicking off in December 2011, when Kenya Airways welcomed the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Nairobi. June 2012 saw Korean Air launch a non-stop service from Seoul Incheon to Nairobi, becoming the first airline to operate direct flights from north-east Asia to Nairobi. Unfortunately, the news out of Virgin Atlantic was not as good, with the UK-based airline announcing that it would stop flying to Kenya, blaming high taxes, soaring fuel costs and a lack of slots at London Heathrow.

On the hotel front, there was some interesting 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% 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.

On the airline routes front, KQ commenced flights to the Kenyan town of Eldoret in November, and a month later increased the frequency of flights between Nairobi and Johannesburg. Looking ahead to the rest of 2013, low-cost carrier fastJet is hoping to have presence in Kenya, having started with its base in Dar es Salaam.

There are also a couple of big hotel projects in Nairobi, with Kempinski’s Villa Rosa and Hemingways Nairobi scheduled to open in 2013, along with Dusit International’s new property. They are expected to be followed 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 and a group of easyHotel properties.

Back on the airline front, January 2013 saw Kenya Airways and RwandAir announce their intention to form a strategic partnership, resulting in more choice for passengers and better connectivity. Barely a month later, KQ announced a new codeshare agreement with Etihad Airways. That brought to 18 the number of strategic codeshares that KQ has signed with other international carriers.

Airport

International flights land at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, located 15 kilometres beyond the CBD on the road to Mombasa. Wilson Airport is situated close to the city centre, and offers both domestic services and charter flights. JKIA is badly in need of a facelift, which it is getting. It’s currently undergoing a major overhaul, including the building of a second runway, construction of a new terminal and car park garage, and general renovation of existing airport facilities.

“I can’t wait for the redevelopment to be complete,” says Norman. “It really is a poor experience at present – check in, air-conditioning, food and beverage facilities, baggage claim. That being said, the immigration staff are incredibly efficient and friendly.”

“The current airport is old, inefficient, provides minimum comfort for travellers and does not accommodate for growth. On arrival and departure, the signs are not very visible, making the experience somewhat uncomfortable,” says Webster.

As it stands, once you’re past the security queues, you’ll find airside services are few and far between. If you have more than a few hours to wait, it’s worth paying for access to the Business Class lounge. “It’s very busy all the time, so if you have a long connection it is definitely advisable to have lounge access,” says Marc de Jager, Global Alliance Manager for Travel with Flair. “Wi-Fi access in the lounge is however very slow at times. When checking in for flights, you have to go through two security checkpoints and you almost always have to take off your shoes and belts, so try and travel as light as possible. 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.”   

Unless you’re of stern disposition, you’ll want to avoid hiring a car in Nairobi – taxis are readily available from the airport and hotels. Remember to negotiate a fare upfront. Local ‘matatu’ minibus taxis ply routes in and around major cities – they’re popular with locals, but aren’t ideal for getting to meetings on time. At night, ask your hotel to call a taxi.

Hotels

Never mind the host of new hotels popping up in Nairobi, the city is already long on 5-star properties, with plenty of international brands. According to Chris Schuitmaker, Manager: Regional Business & 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, MD 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 De Jager. “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 (40km), but definitely worth it. Another favourite 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 Stuart Young, Director of News & Programmes 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.”

Potential

“Kenya’s key geographic position, infrastructure and telecommunications all work to position it as a favourable 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.

Fact File

Population: 41 million

Time zone: GMT +3

Plugs: Three-pin square British-style

Dialling code: +254

Currency: Kenyan Shilling US$1=KES84

Language: Kiswahili and English

Visas

Citizens of most south and east African countries do not require a visa to enter Kenya for less than 30 days. But, travellers from most other countries will need either a 30-day visa on arrival or will have to have applied at a Kenyan diplomatic mission for a single-entry visa before their scheduled visit. The single-entry visa allows travellers to Kenya to visit Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and re-enter Kenya multiple times. The 30-day visa on arrival is available at all international airports, and the cost is in the region of $50.

Connectivity

Internet access is easily available in major cities, and almost all hotels and resorts will offer Internet access in the rooms, or in a central business centre. Public Internet cafés are also available in Nairobi and Mombasa. Mobile phone coverage is widespread throughout the southern parts of the country, but can be scarce in the sparsely-populated northern areas. Roaming charges are expensive, so if you expect to make a lot of phone calls rather purchase a local sim card (Safaricom is a popular choice) on arrival. Mobile Internet access is also easily available, although it can be slow. Expect to pay $6 for 500MB.

Travel Tips

There’s a reason the capital has earned the nickname ‘Nai-robbery’. If you’re walking the streets, especially at night, it pays to leave your valuables in the hotel safe and keep your guard up. Unless you know exactly where you’re going, rather take a taxi from the hotel. Visa and MasterCard-enabled ATMs are widely available in Nairobi, and hotels will accept major credit cards and travellers’ cheques.

“Central Nairobi has a reputation for being dangerous, but I have never had a problem there,” says Trevor Ward, MD of W Hospitality Group. “But, be streetwise all the same. The traffic in town is appalling, so leave plenty of time to get to the airport when leaving.”

“As Nairobi is a very busy city with lots of development, it is definitely advisable to arrive outside of peak times, as the traffic is a nightmare,” says Marc de Jager, Global Alliance Manager for Travel with Flair. “It can sometimes take up to three hours to travel 30 kilometres.”

Health

Although there’s no malaria in Nairobi, it is prevalent across much of the country and prophylactics are recommended. Consult your doctor three weeks before travelling. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required and remember that the vaccination must be done at least 10 days prior to departure.

 

 

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