Bitter devolution pill for Nyeri town’s hospitality industry

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 00:00 |
The four-star White Rhino Hotel in Nyeri town.

Hospitality and travel sectors say devolution has cost them business in reduced conference and State sponsored events at the former Central Province headquarters

The hospitality and travel industry in Nyeri is staring at a crisis as tourists shun the region even as neighbouring counties grab the lion’s share of meetings previously held at the former provincial capital.   

While other county head offices boast of the fruit of devolution, the business community in Nyeri town is counting losses following reduced number of visitors to their premises.

Stripped of provincial headquarters status to a mere county head office in 2013, the town has since lost business worth billions of shillings. 

Businessmen who used to get windfalls from government workshops and conferences are counting losses. “Previously, Nyeri town hotels used to enjoy patronage from as far as Kiambu.

After devolution kicked off, the other six districts retreated to their headquarters where they identified suitable hotels for conferencing,” says Charles Karuga, Secretary of Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit.

Back then, many hotels such as Green Hills, Outspan and White Rhino constructed huge conference halls that would accommodate more than 600 delegates. “But after devolution, business went down. That’s why the facilities are lying idle,’’ says Karuga.

Each year, hundreds of tourists flock to sites such as Treetops in Aberdare Ranges and Mt Kenya in the county. However, visitor arrivals have reduced significantly resulting to low incomes and closure of some hotels.

Tour operators say lack of unique selling points by tour firms and competition from world-renowned sites such as Maasai Mara has seen many visitors shun the region.

Karuga, who operates a medium-sized hotel in the town, says he used to serve many clients in the mornings, but not any more. Everyday, many new faces would visit the eatery, including prominent lawyers from across the country going for hearings of cases at the Nyeri High Court. “The number I used to serve daily hardly matches what I serve now in a whole week,” he says. 

After devolution, the High Court set base in almost every county, reducing the flow of litigants to Nyeri town. Only those seeking an appeal visit, but rarely.

Arthur Muchiri, also a hotel owner in the town, concurs. He says they have lost 30 per cent of their business since the birth of devolution.

”When Nyeri was a provincial headquarters, we used to regularly host civil servants attending seminars. Today, we host only a handful of county conferences and as you can see here, I have many empty halls,” he says.

He says unless the business community and county government thinks out of the box, they will continue to suffer.

Other hotel managers say they were forced to layoff workers due to lack of business. It is now rare for hotels to host more than 200 in a conference since only the Nyeri county government gives them business and the meetings are rare.

Some hoteliers are also contemplating converting rooms set aside for conferencing for other uses. A hotel manager who declined to be quoted said hotels are being forced to reduce rates for local patrons so as to at least stay afloat.

“Unless the sector reinvents itself, many of these establishments will have no choice, but to close down,” she said. 

Scouts conference 

In a sharp contrast, the hotel industry is thriving in neighbouring counties, with new restaurant establishments and star-rated hotels setting up shop.

In Murang’a, the Hotel Nokras group with a facility in Murang’a town and a larger establishment near town is leading in hosting county conferences. Others are Golden Palm in Kenol town.

In nearby Kirinyaga, many meetings taking place at Roswam Hotel while other resorts include Maya Resort near Sagana. Most towns in Kirinyaga—Mwea, Kaggio, Kutus, Sagana and Kagumo have recently established hotels. 

Nyeri executive in charge of Tourism, Diana Kendi, admits the county has lost revenue due to the shift, but added that they are diversifying top international tourism to bridge the gap. 

“It’s true we have had quite a hit. We are diversifying and will soon hold high profile conference for the Scout Movement, which will boost conferences and bed occupancy,” she says. 

Kendi said the county has put in place mechanisms of ensuring most regional meetings are held in Nyeri to cushion hoteliers.

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