East African Hub

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When Kenya hits the news it’s usually for all the wrong reasons, but with a tumultuous few years nearly forgotten, and the outgoing government of Mwai Kibaki relishing a run of relatively strong economic growth, Kenya is reporting a boom in business travel.

That business travel boom is on the back of growing GDP, a booming information technology sector, and increased trade with the Far East.

“We have witnessed tremendous growth in the business tourism segment, with massive investments in upmarket business hotels,” says Kenya’s Tourism Minister, Najib Balala. “Arrivals are expected to reach three million, and earnings to hit the Kshs200-billion, mark by 2015.”

And there’s good reason for the surge in business travel. Although it lacks mineral resources, Kenya’s diversified economy (a mix of manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, fishing and – increasingly – service industries) is the strongest in East Africa, edging out neighbouring Tanzania by a few billion dollars per year. And although the endemic corruption the country is infamous for remains a major barrier to economic prosperity, according to the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report for 2012, Kenya ranks ahead of neighbours Uganda and Tanzania when it comes to getting an operation up and running.

“Nairobi is viewed as a preferred location for businesses to establish an operations base focused on markets in East Africa and, in some cases, on markets across the whole of Africa,” explains Moshi Perera, General Manager of Sankara Nairobi. “The location is quite strategic for global connectivity to Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as shown by the number of international carriers flying into Nairobi.”

“Nairobi is increasingly becoming the East African economic hub,” agrees Rosemary Mugambi, Sales and Marketing Director for Serena Hotels East Africa, who notes that conferencing has become sought-after in both Nairobi and the country’s famed national parks. “Kenya is perhaps the second-most popular MICE destination in sub-Saharan Africa. We have good conference facilities of international standards,” says Balala.

“Nairobi is also a popular conference destination because it’s so easy to do day trips at the beginning or end of your conference,” adds Mark Somen, General Manager of Tribe hotel in Nairobi. The city “is generally considered to be the location of choice for regional meetings for organisations with business focused across the East Africa region,” adds Perera. “The Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) has recently been renovated and the planned improvements at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which include the creation of a Terminal 4, will facilitate the growth in more travel. Overall, the MICE segment looks to be one of the key growth segments in the next five years.”

Yet, while Nairobi attracts the bulk of corporate visitors, “major cities such as Mombasa and Kisumu are also attracting a lot of business travel,” says Balala. “With the recent opening of an international airport in Kisumu, business travel to the city is expected to grow further. Other urban areas with vibrant industries include Thika, Nakuru, Eldoret and Naivasha – industries in these areas range from textile manufacturing and agro-processing to floriculture.”

Business travel to the powerhouse of East Africa is certainly booming on the back of current stability and a diverse economy, but as President Kibaki ends his second term as president, and Kenyans return to the polls in 2012, all eyes are on whether Kenya can say ‘jambo’ to a peaceful handover of power.

Fact File

Population: 41 million
Time zone: GMT +3
Plugs: Three-pin square, British-style
Dialling code: +254 + area code + number
Currency: Kenyan Shilling and US dollars. In the larger cities you’ll have no trouble finding internationally-linked ATMs, and traveller’s cheques are accepted at major hotels
GDP (2010 est.): US$66 billion
GDP growth rate (2010 est.): 5%
Language: Kiswahili and English are official languages in Kenya, and across southern Kenya you’ll have no trouble conversing in English. Further north you might want to consider a local guide/translator
Important cities: Nairobi is the capital and home to the country’s economic and political power. A host of multinationals have their East African head offices here, and it’s also where you’ll find the Kenyan parliament, the United Nations mission, and the country’s stock exchange. Mombasa relies on its busy port. However, tourism is a major economic driver here too, with beachfront resorts fringing the white beaches. Situated on Lake Victoria, Kisumu is the largest town in western Kenya and a major port for trade with Uganda and Tanzania.

Air Travel

Most international flights land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, 15 kilometres outside of Nairobi, which also handles most of the country’s domestic traffic. The smaller Wilson Airport is situated close to the Nairobi city centre and offers a smaller selection of domestic services, as well as charter flights. Mombasa’s Moi International Airport handles both domestic and regional flights, and is also popular with leisure-focused charter airlines ferrying tourists to and from Europe.

Kenya Airways is the national carrier, and is rapidly establishing itself as one of Africa’s premier airlines. A member of the global Skyteam alliance, the airline flies to 56 destinations across the globe, 47 of which are within Africa, and aims to serve every capital city on the continent by 2013. Domestic destinations are limited to Mombasa and Kisumu, but the airline offers excellent regional connections to the likes of Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Kigali. KQ offers 20 flights per week between Nairobi and Johannesburg, with three flights per day (except Wednesdays, when double-daily).

“Kenya Airways is a popular choice for South Africans travelling beyond Nairobi, as we offer passengers schedule flexibility,” says Helena Maxwell, Sales Manager South Africa for Kenya Airways, adding: “We have noticed a trend in the greater demand for Business Class travel on the Johannesburg-Nairobi route.”
kenya-airways.com or +254 20 327 4747; +27 82 2345 786

South African Airways offers one flight per day between Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and Nairobi, departing at 09h40 and arriving at 14h45 (local times). The return flight departs Nairobi at 16h00, arriving in Johannesburg at 19h15.
flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313

1time may have their sights set on the leisure market, but their direct flight from Johannesburg to Mombasa (due to launch on 5 March 2012) is also the quickest way to get from southern Africa to this important trading and tourism hub. Flights depart from Johannesburg on Mondays and Fridays, returning the same day.
 1time.aero or +27 11 86 8000

Fly540 is perhaps the best way to access Kenya’s smaller domestic destinations, serving cities such as Eldoret, Lodwar, Lamu and Malindi. Operating out of both Jomo Kenyatta and Wilson airports, Fly540 also offers regular flights to a number of destinations in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda. They also have a selection of luxurious business jets available for private charter.
fly540.com or +254 722 540 540

Car Rental

Long distances between towns, coupled with poor road conditions, make flying the easiest way to travel around the country. However, within major cities and for travelling to out-of-the-way towns, it’s best not to rely on public transport, and a hire-car might be the quickest way to get the job done. “Due to the driving conditions I would recommend a chauffeur-driven hire car,” suggests Kirit Thakker, Country Manager Kenya for Avis Rent A Car.

“Nairobi traffic can definitely be problematic. If not planned correctly, you can spend most of the day sitting in traffic,” says Moshi Perera of Sankara Nairobi. “If you have meetings around town, schedule them by location so that you are not going back and forth constantly. Peak hours are between 7-9am and 5-7pm on the main Mombasa Road connecting the city to the airport.”

If you opt to drive yourself – a somewhat hazardous choice in the busy streets of Nairobi or Mombasa – an international driving license is required for most travellers. “However, a South African license is valid to drive in Kenya,” adds Thakker. “My personal suggestion is that one should use a four-wheel drive when driving in Kenya.”

If you’re not hiring a car, “registered taxi companies are generally reliable at the airport,” suggests Mark Somen, General Manager of Tribe hotel in Nairobi. “Just avoid the dodgy ones! In terms of getting around, it’s best to get taxis from shopping centres or hotels.” In the coastal regions, three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuks’ offer a speedy and cheap – if slightly undignified – way to get around. Remember to agree the fare upfront.

Avis Rent A Car
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, +254 20 2386421 or Moi Avenue, Mombasa, +254 736 750006, avis.co.ke

Europcar
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, +254 20 822 624, europcar.com

Central Rent A Car
680 Hotel Building, Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi, +254 20 2222 888, thrifty.co.za

Safe Travels

  • Malaria is found across Kenya, although there’s none in the capital Nairobi. However, if you’re travelling further inland, or to the coastal areas, you should consult your doctor three weeks before travelling.
  • Yellow fever is endemic in Kenya, and proof of vaccination is required to enter the country. The vaccination must be done at least 10 days prior to departure.
  • Safety is often a concern for visitors to the capital, which is still struggling to shake off its unfortunate nickname, ‘Nairobbery’. However, provided you know where you’re going, the streets are generally safe to walk during the daytime. At night, it’s best to ask your hotel to call a taxi. A similar situation applies in Mombasa, but here you should beware of pickpockets, particularly in the winding streets of the Old Town.

Visa issues

Kenya allows visitors from most south and east African countries to enter the country for 30 days without applying for a visa. If you do require a visa (consult www.kenya.org.za/visa for a full list of affected countries), you can apply at your nearest Kenyan High Commission, or obtain a visa on arrival for US$50.

Where to stay

Sankara Nairobi
This trendy 5-star hotel pulls no punches when it comes to Afro-inspired luxury, with 156 rooms boasting iPod docks, flat-screen TVs and complimentary Wi-Fi. A multifunctional meeting space caters for up to 220 people, there are four stylish restaurants on-site and the rooftop pool bar is great for sundowners. Perhaps the only downside is the heavy rush-hour traffic from Westlands into the city.
Woodvale Grove, Westlands, Nairobi, +254 20 420 8000, sankara.com

Nairobi Serena
Famed for its elegance and 5-star service, the Nairobi Serena is also centrally located, although it claims to offers an ‘oasis of serenity’ amidst the bustle of one of Africa’s most vibrant cities. The décor reflects an entirely pan-African theme and there’s a range of dining experiences – the hotel renowned for its ‘Mandhari’ fine-dining restaurant. The hotel also offers world-class business and conference centre facilities, Wi-Fi and the exclusive ‘Maisha’ Health Club and Spa.
Kenyatta Avenue/Processsional Way, Nairobi, +254 20 282 2000, serenahotels.com

Tribe
This gorgeous boutique hotel is a breath of Nordic elegance in the steamy streets of Nairobi. The hotel’s rooms and suites ooze chic design, while the hip Jiko restaurant’s contemporary international cuisine is ideal for business dinners. The Executive Resource Centre offers everything from secretarial services to conference facilities.
Limuru Road, The Village Market, Gigiri, Nairobi, +254 20 720 0000, tribe-hotel.com

Fairview
A welcome respite from the bustle of downtown Nairobi, this family-run property – ranked #1 on TripAdvisor and billed as “the country hotel in town” – is packed full of charm. What it might lack in ‘bling’, it makes up for with personalised service, five acres of peaceful gardens and free Wi-Fi throughout the property. There is also a swimming pool, gym, business centre and conference facility.
Bishops Road, 00100, Nairobi, +254 20 288 1419, fairviewkenya.com

Serena Beach Hotel, Mombasa
Easily the best hotel on the North Coast, the Swahili style and laid-back pace add a dose of charm to this beachfront resort. It’s a 20-minute drive from central Mombasa, but its world-class conference facilities make it a popular choice for meetings, incentives and longer visits. If you have any downtime, there’s a well-equipped water sports centre on site, as well as the Maisha Spa.
Shanzu Beach Road, Mombasa, +27 11 021 2607/8/9, serenahotels.com

The Castle Royal Hotel, Mombasa
A good bet if you want to be slap-bang in the centre of Mombasa. Situated a stone’s throw from the famous ‘tusks’ of Moi Avenue, the hotel – first built in the 1920s – has recently been refurbished, so you can expect spacious rooms and the usual large hotel amenities.
Moi Avenue, Mombasa, +254 41 2228780, sentrim-hotels.com

Richard Holmes