Best kept secret destination that is Machakos county
With its expansive landscapes, rich history and formidable animal life, the county’s tourism prospects have remained overlooked. Sector players weigh in on the challenges opportunities and a sneak peak of what the region has to offer.
Harriet James @harriet86jim
From beautiful beaches at the coast to amazing mountain towns such as Meru and Nakuru to national animal reserve towns spread across the country, indeed there are destinations everyone should have a chance to visit in their lifetime.
But most of these vacation hots pots are packed with tourists determined to have a shot at the exhilarating adventure they offer.
So, how about ditching the crowds for a moment and seeking out often underrated vacation spots?
After all with the social distancing requirements in place occasioned by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it presents a perfect opportunity to do so.
One such destination is Machakos county... Yes, its capital Machakos Town often referred to as Masaku, is the hub of Ukambani region, which is about 40 to 50 minutes drive from Nairobi.
Yet despite its close proximity to the city, its numerous attractions remain unappreciated.
“This is a relatively undisturbed tourism resource base that is appealing to explorers seeking to have a fresh travel experience.
Its scenic views, rich culture and heritage, as well as various tourist sites are wowing to visitors traversing the region,” said media personality and Tembea Tujenge Kenya Initiative ambassador, Maina Kageni during a recent tour of the county.
Machakos county is home to Kathiani, Machakos Town, Kangundo, Yatta, Mavoko, Masinga, and Mwala sub counties.
Some of the attractions in the region, include Kyamwilu Anti-Gravity Hill along Machakos-Mutituni road where nature defies gravity and tourists both local and international visit the hill to watch the water flow upward instead of downwards.
The Komarock Shrine in Nguluni area has the best sculpture of Jesus held by his mother Mary, Lukenya Hills and Caves in Lukenya were a hiding place for Kenya’s independence fighters Mau Mau and are good for hiking, wildlife viewing on surrounding Athi plains and sightseeing.
The magnificent African Heritage House in Kasina, Mlolongo, has African art and furnishings, a showpiece of African heritage and culture.
Other destinations in the county include Wamunyu Art Carvings, the Macmillan Castle, Fourteen Falls among others.
Tourism product offerings
To boost tourism activities, the county government and hospitality industry players in the region in partnership with other tourism bodies are looking to attract a share of the tourism revenue pie big destinations are generating.
The development of Gelian Hotel, the only four-star hotel in the eastern region of Kenya, has contributed heavily in lifting the standards of the region in terms of accommodation and conferencing facilities.
“Our hotel has become a benchmark when it comes to building hotels in these areas and has brought people to Machakos too, because there are great facilities to sleep or have meetings.
The county is also the gateway to Tsavo National Park and Makueni county and some visitors end up spending a night or two here before proceeding to their various destinations,” says the hotel chairman Alphonse Kioko.
Agrotourism is another promising direction of tourism development in the region.
Kamuthanga Fish Farm, a tilapia producing fish farm is the first certified fish farm with Eco Mark African label on the continent.
Here, guests not only get to learn about fish farming, but also get to sample the fish too.
“We are in the process of setting up structures so that we can charge visitors who come to learn or just experience the farm,” says Anthony Ndeto, the farm owner.
However, despite these developments, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges.
“We had to send some of our staff members on mandatory leave. The remaining staff are paid based on the number of days they work,” Kioko explains.
Machakos county governor Dr Alfred Mutua, who is also an investor in the region says he hasn’t been spared either.
Despite being the county boss, he has also had challenges, especially during the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, I had 40 to 50 employees at my hotel, A & I Hotel, but now I have scaled down to 10 employees. I
took a bank loan to build this property, and the financial institution I borrowed from want their money back regardless of this challenging period,” he says.
Dr Mutua adds that they have had to cut their operating costs and have now only opened a section of the hotel to lower their power, water and service costs.
“There is no reason for operating a whole hotel when people are still scared to travel. But I’m optimistic and I feel that Kenya will overcome these challenges.
I will hang on because when we recover, we’ll be ahead of those who closed down and waited for things to get better,” he says.
As the governor of the county, Dr Mutua says he has improved infrastructure, such as the roads to facilitate accessibility to all parts of the county, including tourist destinations.
“When I became governor, I built and repaired the roads, built a stadium to boost sports tourism, and a people’s park to bring visitors to this county, among other developments, such as Masinga dam, which I upgraded,” he says.
To relieve hotels running costs, he suspended some licencing costs, such as payment of fire licenses, which had become a burden to shops and hotels in the county. He has also lowered warehousing costs, a reduction of 50 per cent of the tariff paid by wholesalers and distributors domiciled in the county.
Maina feels that only Kenyans can aid in averting the adverse effects of the pandemic by offering their support to the hotels.
“Tourism has really suffered a lot and we don’t want to lose the gains that were made when the restrictions were lifted.
Please keep supporting rural domestic tourism because there are millions who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
Let’s visit the destinations and respect Covid-19 safety rules so that we can all support the industry,” he urges.
Increased awareness needed
James Makau, the General Manager Kiandani Hotel feels that tourism sites in the region need proper structures set up to bring more guests.
For instance, he proposes that there be a picnic place at Kyamwilu Hill where travellers can refresh as they enjoy the beautiful vistas of the area and get mesmerised by the wonders of the hill.
He also feels that the county needs more awareness to boost tourism. “The county needs awareness of the various places where people can visit when they come here.
We need initiatives, such as Tembea Tujenge Kenya, the tourism board, and even tour guides and tour operators developing diverse itineraries of where people can go and where they can sleep when they come to Machakos, as that is what will make people come here and break the perception that this county has nothing going on,” he says.
Although there is an airstrip under construction in Machakos to ease transport, Kioko feels that the county needs to have a conference centre to boost tourism.
“Having a conference centre is a game-changer as our hotels rely on conferencing as our main market.
With it, the hotels and tour agents will thrive. I saw it work in Dubai and Rwanda is overtaking Kenya because of that,” says Kioko in conclusion.