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. But doing business here is not without its own challenges.
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. However, 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. Nonetheless, it’s still seen as a gateway to East and Central Africa, and a place where most big corporates would love to have a presence.
Business Travel Activity
There was much activity in the airline space, kicking off in December 2011, when Kenya Airways welcomed the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Nairobi as part of the world tour. KQ is hoping to receive the first of nine Dreamliners later in 2013 or early 2014. That was followed in March with the news that South African low-cost carrier, 1time had launched its Mombasa route, with two direct flights a week from O.R. Tambo International Airport. Sadly, eight months later, 1time was in liquidation.
There was more activity in the skies in June, both positive and negative. Korean Air launched 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, 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 2013, low-cost carrier, fastjet will soon have presence in Kenya, having started with its base in Dar es Salaam, whilst there are two big hotel projects in Nairobi, with Kempinski’s Villa Rosa and Hemingways Nairobi scheduled to open in 2013.
Nairobi is the country’s commercial and political capital, home to the seat of government, United Nations missions, the Nairobi Stock Exchange and a host of multinational offices. The coastal city of Mombasa is the country’s second-largest city, and one of the most important ports in East Africa, providing a vital transport link to Central Africa. 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, which is expected to commence in June. As it stands, once you’re past the interminable 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.
“Nairobi’s airport is old and creaky, but seems to work OK,” says Trevor Ward, MD of W Hospitality Group. “But, it is way too overcrowded, and the departure hall always seems to be strewn with stranded passengers from exotic places! The duty-free is not bad, though.”
“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.
Citizens of most south and east African countries do not require a visa to enter Kenya for less than 30 days. Passport-holders requiring a visa can apply at their nearest Kenyan High Commission, or obtain a visa on arrival for US$50.
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.
Nairobi is not short on 5-star hotels, 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 5-star 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 Ward. “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.”
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.
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.
“Central Nairobi has a reputation for being dangerous, but I have never had a problem there,” says Ward. “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 De Jager. “It can sometimes take up to three hours to travel 30 kilometres.”
Population: 41 million
Time zone: GMT +3
Plugs: Three-pin square British-style
Dialling code: +254
Currency: Kenyan Shilling. Exchange rate: US$1=KES86
Language: Kiswahili and English
Air Berlin – airberlin.com
Air Botswana – airbotswana.co.bw
Air France – airfrance.com
Air Mauritius – airmauritius.com
BA – ba.com
Brussels Airline – brusselsairline.com
Condor – condor.com
Delta Air Lines – delta.com
EGYPTAIR – egyptair.com
Emirates – emirates.com
Ethiopian Airlines – flyethiopian.com
Etihad Airways – etihadairways.com
Fly540 – fly540.com
Iberia – iberia.com
Jetlink – jetlink.co.ke
Kenya Airways – kenya-airways.com
KLM – klm.com
LAM – lam.co.mz
Meridiana – meridiana.it
Precision Air – precisionairtz.com
Qatar Airways –
SAA – flysaa.com
Swiss – swiss.com
Tanganyika Flying –
Tuifly – tuifly.com
Turkish Airlines – turkishairlines.com
Country Lodge – countrylodge.co.ke
Crowne Plaza Nairobi – ichotelsgroup.com
Fairmont The Norfolk – fairmont.com
Fairview – fairviewkenya.com
Hilton Nairobi – hilton.com
InterContinental – ichotelsgroup.com
Laico Regency – laicohotels.com
Nairobi Serena – serenahotels.com
Ole-Sereni – ole-serenihotel.com
Palacina – palacina.com
Panari Hotel – panarihotels.com
Sankara Nairobi – sankara.com
Sarova Panafric – sarovahotels.com
Sarova Stanley – sarovahotels.com
Southern Sun Mayfair – tsogosunhotels.com
The Boma Nairobi – theboma.co.ke
Tribe Hotel – tribe-hotel.com
Windsor Golf – windsorgolfresort.com
Access to Africa – access-to-africa.com
BCD Travel – bcdtravel.com
Carlson Wagonlit – carlsonwagonlit.com
Club Travel – clubcorporatetravel.co.za
FCm Travel – fcm.travel
HRG – hrgworldwide.com
Tourvest – tourvest.co.za
Travel With Flair – twfglobal.com
Uniglobe – uniglobetravel.mu