It may have endured a difficult 2013, but Kenya remains the hub of East Africa and the region’s most prominent business travel destination, with an expanding economy, an appetite to do business and a capital city primed to build on its already-impressive growth.
Although Kenya is still a poor developing country by international standards, the economy has grown over the years, driven by strong performance in a number of sectors. As a result, it remains one of Africa’s more powerful economies.
Added to that, its geographic position in East Africa further enhances its ‘hub’ status, with its Indian Ocean coast lying between Somalia to the north-east and Tanzania to the south. Its other neighbours are Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north and Uganda to the west.
The economy has seen much expansion, with strong performance in the services sector, which contributes about 63% of GDP, whilst tourism is a key element. Industrial activity concentrated around the three largest urban centres, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, is dominated by food-processing industries such as grain milling, beer production and sugarcane crushing, and the fabrication of consumer goods. The oil and gas sectors are also growing significantly.
Kenya is also emerging as an East African technology leader, with the country’s much-touted Konzo Techno City project at the forefront of that. It will be situated along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway on 5,000 acres of land 60 kilometres from Nairobi, and will be constructed in four phases over 20 years. The first phase will be completed in three years’ time. The ‘technopolis’ will consist of a business process outsourcing park, a science park, mega malls, convention centre, data schools, hotels, international schools, hospitals, a championship golf course, financial district, high-speed mass transport system, and residential housing, among other facilities. The government is facilitating the construction of both onsite and offsite infrastructure, including roads, water and sewerage systems, energy and high-speed rail.
“The actualisation of the Konza City Project will definitely place Kenya on the world map as an East African IT hub, in a similar way to Egypt’s Smart Village Cairo and the Ebene Cyber City in Mauritius,” says Sahra Kaka, Managing Director of BCD Travel Kenya.
Kaka believes the project will change Kenya’s technology industry dramatically, offering home-developed solutions to the challenges facing the sector, along with creating jobs.
“We are keenly monitoring the progress of the Konzo Techno City development, but are currently not involved as the timelines of the project are still uncertain,” says Clifford Ross, Chief Executive of the City Lodge Hotel Group. “The potential of the project is huge and could definitely impact the future of the country and the economy.”
Changing Business Travel Landscape
The past year has been a difficult one for Kenya, and Nairobi specifically, due to the August fire that ripped through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the September terrorist attack on the Westlands shopping mall.
The JKIA fire moved through the international arrivals terminal on the 7th of August, with all inbound flights diverted to Mombasa, Eldoret, Entebbe, Kilimanjaro International and Dar es Salaam, and all outbound flights cancelled. Kenya Airways began limited domestic operations that evening, using the domestic departure terminal, which was not damaged by the fire. A temporary international arrivals facility was then set up at the Presidential Pavilion at JKIA, and began processing passengers just a week later on 14 August. Expansions at JKIA have been underway since 2006, adding a fourth terminal, increased apron space, an additional taxiway and more parking bays. But renovations had run behind schedule from almost the beginning, and the buildings ruined in the fire will delay the completion of new airport even further. In the months following the fire, the Kenyan government also announced plans to build a temporary terminal, convert the parking garage under construction into an arrivals lounge, and accelerate the construction of the new terminal.
“In true Kenyan spirit the recovery had minimal impact, and within days the airport was up and running,” says Carolyn Riddick of Kenya Tourism. “The focus is now on the new airport terminal and, with greater efficiency, becoming a hub within Africa.”
In terms of new routes, the past year has seen Kenya Airways increase its frequency to Maputo in Mozambique. This brought to four the number of flights operated by the airline to the Mozambican capital. In its quest to create an African gateway to Asia, Kenya Airways improved its flight connections between Hong Kong and West Africa via its Nairobi hub, and commenced flights between Guangzhou and Nairobi via Bangkok. There was also the introduction of a direct flight to Abu Dhabi, with KQ settling on three flights a week, off the back of the announcement of the codeshare agreement with Etihad Airways.
2013 also saw the announcement that Kenya Airways and RwandAir were to form a strategic partnership and stronger relations. Travellers can enjoy four flights a day between Kigali and Nairobi.
Also within Africa, Kenya Airways took the decision to increase the number of its flights from Nairobi to Gaborone, due to increased demand. The new flight departs Gaborone at 00h50 and lands in Nairobi at 06h00. 2013 also saw the announcement of direct KQ flights to Abuja, Nigeria, in a bid to further tourism and trade between the two countries.
Domestically, Kenya Airways added three more flights between Nairobi and Eldoret, bringing to 14 the total number of KQ flights on this route. Eldoret sits in the Rift Valley region of Kenya and is the country’s fastest-growing town.
From an international airline perspective, Qatar Airways increased its frequency between Doha and Nairobi, by adding four additional weekly flights to and from the capital city. That saw the airline increase its A320 aircraft flights to 18 flights per week.
Edelweiss, the Swiss charter airline, decided to withdraw its flights to Mombasa, Kenya, between 5 May and 29 September 2014. The airline has been flying to the Kenyan coast for a number of years, regardless of season, but has now decided to scale back its operation to both Mombasa and Kilimanjaro. The airline will continue its scheduled flights to Kenya during the European winter season, 30 September to 4 May, as residents up north escape the plummeting temperatures for sunny holiday destinations.
Fly540 Kenya expanded its flight network with the signing of its first international interline agreement with Qatar Airways. The agreement began with an inbound interline service for passengers arriving in Kenya. Qatar Airways’ passengers are able to connect with a Fly540 Kenya flight at Jomo Kenyatta International, and fly to destinations within Fly540 Kenya’s network, using one itinerary. Passengers will have seamless, through-baggage and hassle-free onward connections to Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi and Mombasa, and also across the border into Juba and Zanzibar.
In related industry news, Travelport, a distribution services and e-commerce provider for the global travel industry, launched a new direct commercial presence in Kenya. With the new Travelport operation for travel agents in place and an expanded Travelport team on the ground, the travel technology provider announced plans to introduce new customer support services and deploy a wide range of products, all aimed at helping Kenyan travel agents take advantage of the region’s growth and earn new revenues.
The Kenyan hotel industry may not have been as busy as its airline counterparts in 2013, but there was still some movement on the Nairobi hotel scene. With tourism a major contributor to the economy, it stands to reason that Kenya is a leading market for the expansion of hotel groups, both local and international.
Kempinski opened a 5-star luxury hotel – the Kempinski Villa Rosa – along Waiyaki Way, the road linking the Nairobi CBD with the affluent suburb of Westlands, and the group appears to be very happy with its investment in the Kenyan capital.
“There are tremendous opportunities in business travel in Nairobi, given the boom in the Kenyan economy and the worldwide focus on Africa for business,” says Kempinski General Manager Manish Nambiar. “The MICE industry is the largest growing industry globally, and the trend is applicable to Kenya. Being a connection hub in Africa makes us an ideal stop-over. We are a city hotel catering to corporate clients and travellers, and we are aggressively expanding in East Africa.”
It’s useful to get the perspective of a new hotel operator in Nairobi, bringing a fresh take on what the business travel market is currently like.
“Business has been very positive and buoyant, and the momentum is on an upward trend,” says Nambiar. “Corporate travel has increased since November last year, and we have seen an upsurge of multi-national companies entering Kenya to plant their flag.”
Also in 2013, Best Western opened the Best Western Premier Nairobi in Hurlingham, 10 minutes from the city centre. The hotel offers 96 rooms and suites with an all-day dining facility.
Also opening was Hemingways, a 45-room boutique hotel in Karen with terraces and views over manicured grounds and the Ngong Hills in the distance.
Hemingways, Kempinski and Best Western are expected to be followed by Dusit International – one of Asia’s most prominent hospitality groups – which announced early in 2013 that it would be opening a new hotel in Nairobi in the third quarter of the year. That opening has since been pushed back. The new property is located at 14 Riverside, an exclusive development in downtown Nairobi.
Also expected to open in 2014, although late in the year, will be the Radisson Blu in Upper Hill. It will have 256 contemporary rooms, and the dining options will include a poolside bar and all-day terrace. The hotel will also have a wellness centre, and Radisson Blu has big plans for its event space, which will feature a stunning ballroom and 13 meeting rooms.
Kenya is a key African hub and is specifically seeking to create an African gateway to Asia. Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the gateway to Kenya and is served by a range of international airlines.
Following the fire at JKIA, the airport announced that the new Terminal Four will be used for both arrivals and departures. The terminal will also offer a SkyTeam lounge, as well as a range of duty-free shops. The new Greenfield Terminal will service Kenya Airways and its affiliate airlines, and construction was expected to begin in March 2014. Ultimately, the airport will double in size through this expansion.
JKIA is approximately 20 minutes from the main business district and it is recommended to use the Mombasa Highway between the airport and Nairobi city. Taxis are plentiful and are best for getting to the city – alternatively, major hotels can arrange pre-booked shuttles. Check-in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and two hours for international. Travellers should make sure that they leave at least two hours to get there, as the main road to the airport has heavy traffic flow, and security checks are tedious.
Wi-Fi is available at JKIA airport, along with banking facilities, taxis, car hire, tour operators and hotel booking offices – all conveniently situated at the arrival areas.
“My airport tip is the Java Hut in the international terminal, which sells coffee in bulk and makes for great gifts for home,” says Bobby Bryan, Commercial Manager: East and West Africa for Delta Air Lines.
“Finding a table at Java Hut can be a challenge at peak periods, and it can be a long walk if you are departing from the lower number gates,” says Martin Herbert, Travelport Regional Director – Sub Saharan Africa. “So allow time to get to your flight.”
After the airport fire, JKIA’s new arrivals area was completed quickly, says Ross.
“It’s working even better than the old arrivals hall,” he says.
“The speed at which the airport refurbishment is moving is commendable,” says Nambiar. “Kenya is undoubtedly the hub of East African transportation and there is no evidence to suggest that the fire incident reduced the numbers of travellers to Nairobi. We are all eagerly awaiting the third quarter of the year to see how the far the airport will have progressed.”
Wilson Airport is a smaller and busy general aviation airport located in a south-central suburb of Nairobi. Other major airports in Kenya are Moi International in Mombasa and Kisumu International Airport – the main airport connecting western Kenya with the world.
As the capital, Nairobi offers a selection of high-quality hotels including many international brands, such as 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.
Fairmont’s The Norfolk Hotel has played a leading role in Kenya’s colorful history, and continues to be one of Nairobi’s finest and best-known hotels, boasting its own private tropical gardens.
The 5-star InterContinental Nairobi is ideally located for business, close to the parliament buildings and CBD, and adjacent to Kenyatta International Convention Centre. It also has a very popular lobby area, which is often used for business meetings. But it does need some sprucing up and possible renovation, if it is to keep up with the new 5-star hotels popping up in Nairobi.
The Nairobi Serena is also 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.
There are a couple of ‘modern’ hotel options. Firstly, 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 156 rooms, three meeting rooms, and eye-catching pool and dining areas, and it has proved popular with business travellers.
“Our average occupancy is 77%,” says Neelma Maru, Sales & Marketing Manager at Sankara Nairobi.”
Just a few hundred metres away is the Southern Sun Nairobi, a member of the South African Tsogo Sun Hotels group.
In the Upper Hill area there are two hotels that catch the eye – the Crowne Plaza and the Fairview, which is a homely 4-star family-run hotel that has gone into business with South African hotel group City Lodge, which has purchased 50% of the hotel’s management company. 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.
“Both the Fairview Hotel and Country Lodge are well established in their respective markets and enjoy very good occupancy rates,” says Ross. “As a first foray into East Africa, we felt that many lessons could be learnt from operations and operators which had well established hotels and knew exactly how business is conducted in the country.”
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 newish pair of the Eka Hotel and The Boma.
The Preferred Hotel Group has a number of properties in Kenya, including the Sarova Stanley Hotel and Sovereign Suites in Nairobi, Lake Naivasha Country Club, Keekorok Lodge in the Maasai Mara, the Nyali International Beach Hotel & Spa, and the Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa in Mombasa.
While Kenya does use international standards for their hotel star ratings, smaller lodges and independent properties can be a little misleading, so unless you’re willing to take a chance, it is safer to book with a more well-known brand to avoid potential nasty surprises.
According to Kaka, there are over 500 licensed hotels of international standard in the country, ranging from the small town hotels to the 5-star town and beach hotels and game lodges. However, the last hotel rating was conducted a while back in 2011, and it is not known when the next will take place.
MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted – American Express and Diners Club less so.
Credit cards are fairly widely accepted, especially in hotels, restaurants and bars. However the credit card penetration is still fairly low.
“Carrying cash is essential, as taxis and most smaller services need to be paid for with cash,” says Herbert. “I would suggest carrying around 10,000KES as a reasonable amount.” That’s about $100, depending on the exchange rate.
Maru feels that carrying cash isn’t that important, as long as your credit card hasn’t been blocked by your bank.
“Credit cards are accepted everywhere, whether you are shopping, at a hotel or out for dinner,” she says.
“At the moment even public transportation is changing to a cashless system, and once rolled out later this year passengers will use smart cards to pay their fares instead of cash,” says Kaka.
“From my experience, you need $50 for your visa on arrival and $50 worth of Kenyan shillings for tipping, taxis and eating at a non-hotel restaurant,” says Caroline Daniel, Director, Global Sales – Africa for the Preferred Hotel Group.
A common problem, however, is credit card fraud, which has been mitigated by the new generation cards that use the chip and pin system at the point of sale. So be sure never to let your card out of your sight, and cover the keypad when punching in your pin.
Expert travellers advise against buying currency in advance, recommending that you withdraw money from an ATM at your destination. Airports in Kenya have ATMs and so do most towns. They also recommend that it is always prudent to bring along some dollars – they are widely acceptable even in the village market places of most lodges.
Visa exemptions are applied for African nationals from: 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.
For citizens of other countries, visas may be obtained through a Kenyan embassy or consulate prior to departure, or are available for purchase on entry at international airports at a cost of $50.
Internet access is available in all cities and most hotels. Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Mobile coverage is usually better in the more populated southern parts of Kenya. It is a good idea to purchase a local SIM card and switch off data roaming, as these charges are excessive. It is much cheaper to purchase a data bundle, and the more expensive ones offer a much better price/limit ratio.
Kenya is adopting information technology and ethernet use. Nairobi offers competitive connectivity thanks to the recent arrival of fibre optics. These fibre optic cables have been laid all over the city.
Many bars, hotels, cafes and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.
“If the free Wi-Fi is doesn’t satisfy your needs, you can get mobile modems for your laptop and use the Internet on the move, with services generally being reasonably fast and working well, especially around Nairobi,” says Herbert.
Sankara Nairobi, Fairview, City Lodge and Preferred Hotels treat their guests to complimentary wireless connectivity.
“Wazi Wi-Fi is among the popular providers,” says Kaka, “with 51 hot spots in Nairobi and Mombasa, and reportedly 250 more in other towns. Wazi Wi-Fi offer wireless Internet for free for the first 15 minutes and thereafter at a very affordable rate at of 50KES for unlimited Internet for the next 24 hours.”
When purchasing a local SIM card, you will need to show valid ID when registering it in Nairobi. Airtel, Safaricom and Orange are Kenya’s major networks, with Safaricom possibly having the best coverage, especially away from Nairobi. Local call rates and data charges can be very cheap, but international roaming and calls are expensive. Safaricom offer rates at around 4KES per minute during peak hours and 2KES off-peak.
“Safaricom is the most recommended provider due to its network coverage,” says Maru. “There are usually fewer issues reported, unless the network is congested.”
“I would strongly recommend Safaricom and Airtel SIM cards,” says Kaka. “These service providers have shops all around the city and offer a wide range of services. Their money services, M-Pesa and Airtel, are popularly accepted in most businesses.”
A yellow fever vaccination is required for travellers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. There is a risk of malaria and travellers are recommended to travel with anti-diarrhoeal medication.
Nairobi the Destination
Nairobi has a reputation for being dangerous, so exercise caution. If you do decide to walk the streets, make sure you do not carry any valuables.
“Most crime is opportunistic petty theft, such as snatching bags through open windows in stationary heavy traffic,” says Herbert. “I would recommend that all visitors are also careful at night and stick to drivers they know when travelling round. If in doubt, stick to the hotel cars, as they are very safe. Nairobi has a fun and vibrant night life and the venues are safe, but it is the travel between them where visitors especially need to be careful.”
Visitors should be aware of Kenya’s Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, which regulates when and where alcoholic drinks may be consumed in public. Smoking in all public places (except in designated areas) is prohibited throughout Kenya. Taking photographs of official buildings, including embassies, is also not recommended.
In terms of restaurant recommendations, and although it’s a little way out of town, Herbert recommends Zen Garden.
“During the day it has a lovely garden and offers great pizzas and European food. At night they close the garden restaurant and it is an excellent Asian restaurant offering a wide range of Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes,” he says.
Maru recommends the legendary Carnivore to first-time visitors, particularly if you like your steak.
Getting around Nairobi can be tricky. The city is well-known for its traffic congestion, especially on the road to JKIA. Public transport consists mainly of buses (Matatu) and can be quite dangerous – many are very unsafe and are driven recklessly. There is also the risk of falling victim to pick-pockets.
“Taxis are the main way to navigate the city,” says Herbert. “Self-drive is difficult given the traffic, lack of parking and safety. Generally, I would recommend that visitors find a good private car/taxi they trust, and stick as much as possible to the same driver. Negotiate a good rate for repeat business.”
Population: 43 million
Time zone: GMT+3
Plugs: UK-type square three-pin
Dialling code: +254
Currency: Kenyan shilling – $1=86.3KES
Language: English and Kiswahili
Kyle Haywood – General Manager Africa: fastjet
Ironically, since the fire at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International in August 2013, my experience has improved significantly. Previously, arrivals and departures were in one hall, which caused congestion. Following the fire, the airport is now using temporary facilities for international arrivals, where the immigration desks and baggage carousels are closer together, making the process faster and more streamlined. The only downside is that you have to be bussed to the temporary facility from your flight, which may add a few extra minutes to your journey.
There are a few other things I recommend when travelling to Kenya on business. Firstly, plan additional travel time between business meetings to move around in Nairobi, as the roads are congested and traffic is unpredictable. Also, be conscious of personal security, and don’t wear flashy jewellery or carry expensive cameras in plain sight. Lastly, don’t take yourself off on a stroll, even around your hotel, without chatting to a hotel concierge about suggested routes, or arranging a local guide.