Nairobi remains one of Africa’s most prominent business travel destinations, thanks to a good selection of quality hotels, an improved airport experience, and Kenya’s status as the biggest economy in East Africa, although the country has had its problems.
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. Kenya has faced other challenges more recently, in the form of corruption, high unemployment, and domestic violence centred around the contested August 2017 elections.
President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of the presidential election, but the Supreme Court declared the election null and void because of irregularities. Kenyatta was also declared the winner of the October re-run, which was boycotted by the opposition.
The violence in and around the elections and the uncertainty hanging over Kenya’s political future had an impact on travel into the country, with a lot of corporate entities adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.
This clearly had an impact on the business travel market, with HTI Consulting reporting that Kenya was one of the worst performers of the countries it studied in 2017, in terms of hotel market performance.
“Nairobi’s occupancy performance was the weakest of the 14 cities assessed, with a decline in occupancy of 11.1%,” said the report. “The high levels of growth in new supply (8.7% increase in rooms available), coupled with a decline in demand due to the violence surrounding the elections has reduced accommodation demand.”
“We saw an impact on volume of business going to the city during 2017, but we are already seeing recovery and hope that will continue,” says Karl de Lacy, International Development Director for Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
The knock-on effect was felt in other areas, as well, with Nielsen reporting in March that Kenya’s Nielsen Consumer Confidence Index score for the fourth quarter of 2017 had dropped six points from the previous quarter to 94, which was the lowest level since the country was first measured in 2013.
“Prolonged uncertainties around elections, drought, and a credit cap resulted in a decline in consumer sentiment,” said Bryan Sun, Managing Director of Nielsen East & South Africa. “Rapidly rising inflation has also driven food prices to five-year highs, which has plagued consumers and retail trading conditions. Consumers are therefore less confident about their personal finances; their spare cash is limited and their mindset remains cautionary, with them opting to save rather than spend”.
All of that being said, the Kenyan government remains bullish and has big plans, in the form of its Vision 2030 (see sidebar), 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 hub, Nairobi is front and centre of that ambitious vision.
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.
“The business traveller segment has grown tremendously over the last five years,” says Ian Rydin, East Africa District Director for the Radisson Hotel Group. “From a destination which was heavily dependent on tourism, Nairobi is gaining a reputation as a key corporate destination not only for large international summits, but also as a regional hub for major international corporates and NGOs, whilst new sectors such as mining and technology have given this sector a significant economic boost.”
The government has a big role to play in ensuring Kenya remains an attractive business travel destination.
“Security measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of business travellers right from the airport,” says Neelma Maru, Director of Sales & Marketing at the newly-opened Moevenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi. “The county government of Nairobi is also working hard to address issues such as the congestion of roads and garbage collection, whilst there is a great improvement in traffic regulations. There are also several campaigns to plant trees which naturally beautify the city.”
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. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) are also located in Upper Hill.
2017 saw work begin on what is expected to be Africa’s tallest building, with the laying of the foundation of a 70-floor mixed-use twin tower development in Upper Hill.
The Pinnacle Towers – which will include a 45-floor Hilton hotel – will also have 20 floors of Class A offices and a Hilton rooftop bar on the 43rd floor. At 900 feet, the building will have the highest viewing deck in Africa and include five floors of shopping, entertainment, and restaurants, plus a health spa, gym and infinity pool. There will also be 200 residential apartments operated by Hilton.
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 five 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.
“Since the renovation, JKIA has implemented various measures to ensure operations are smooth,” says Maru. “Security is assured at the airport with reinforced security elements to ensure the safety of travellers. The terminals are also clean with adequate seating and good visible signage. There are also various establishments including different shops and cafes to serve travellers. Wi-fi is available, so travellers in transit can catch up on work.”
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. KQ also has its Msafiri lounge in Terminal 1D, inside security in the domestic departures area.
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); Turkish Airlines Star Alliance Lounge (Terminal 1E, after Gate 3, Priority Pass); Mara Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, Priority Pass); Mount Kenya Lounge (Terminal 2, Level 1, Priority Pass).
“I recommend the Kenya Airways Simba lounge for guests looking for a quiet, spacious lounge, with fast, free wi-fi and a variety of complimentary food and drinks,” says Rydin.
“The Aspire Lounge has a wide range of food and drink, and the lounge area has wi-fi, newspapers, magazines, TV screens for flight information, and entertainment,” says Maru. “It has adequate space and the rates are also fair.”
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, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand in Asia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, whilst Jambojet, KQ’s low-cost subsidiary, flies to Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Malindi and Diani in Kenya, and Entebbe in Uganda.
Fellow African big-hitters SAA and Ethiopian Airlines 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.
Prior to all this hotel development, Nairobi already offered 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.
Hilton was one of the first international brands with a presence in Nairobi, with its landmark property in the heart of the CBD and in close proximity to Kenyatta International Convention Centre.
The Radisson Hotel Group opened its 271-room Radisson Blu in Upper Hill in 2015. It offers free high-speed wi-fi, great city or park views, international or Kenyan cuisine all day in the Larder restaurant, an open kitchen at the elegant Chop House, an Alfresco Pool Bar & Grill, and a cigar lounge. If you fancy something a little healthier, there’s a state-of-the art gym, pool and spa. The hotel also has one of the largest meeting facilities in Kenya, with 14 versatile meeting rooms, a spacious pre-function area, a business centre, the latest in audio-visual technology, and secure parking for all guests.
A short trip down the road you’ll find two five-star properties that opened in recent years – the Villa Rosa Kempinski and the dusitD2 nairobi, which opened in close proximity to each other, between the CBD and Westlands.
The dusit property is a stunning hotel and more in the ‘boutique’ space, with some rather elegant touches. It has some intriguing spaces and also offers world- class cuisine from its array of bars and restaurants, stylish and spacious guestrooms, unique event spaces, and an inviting Devarana Spa. Also be sure to check out the hotel’s striking red swimming pool!
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 five-star experience, along with a great location, should you need to be in close proximity to the city centre.
There are a couple of contemporary hotel options, one of which is the Tribe Hotel, which has received great reviews and looks to have some stunning facilities and rooms. Then there’s the Sankara Nairobi, which initially set the standard when it opened in Westlands about six years ago. The Sankara offering is nothing short of five-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 five-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 Radisson Blu in Upper Hill are the Crowne Plaza and the Fairview, which is a homely four-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 two-star brand.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts has two properties, in the form of the Best Western Plus Meridian Hotel and the Executive Residency by Best Western Nairobi, which caters more to the long-stay market. 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.
Best Western is expecting to open two additional hotels in Nairobi over the course of 2018. One of these is the first BW Premier Collection by Best Western in Africa. The Alba Nairobi is expected to open later this year, with the group also planning to add the Best Western Plus Grandwest in Westlands. Also in the pipeline, a ‘dual brand’ Executive Residency by Best Western and Best Western Plus, which has apparently already been signed.
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.
If you like your golf and don’t mind being some way from the CBD, there’s the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club.
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.