Upcoming safari rally stirs excitement for Nakuru tourism players

Thursday, June 10th, 2021 00:00 |
below: Aerial view of Nakuru town. BOTTOM: Menengai crater. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

As Kenya gears up to host the World Rally Championship in Nakuru in a fortnight, hospitality industry stakeholders in the region are leveraging on the event, which will attract thousands of international and local visitors to boost the industry after being hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harriet James and Milliam Murigi

The tourism industry players in Nakuru county can now smile after a long period of being grounded due to the unprecedented negative effects Covid-19 pandemic has had on tourism arrivals, revenues, attractions, transport and employment. 

The return of the safari rally after a 19-year hiatus will not only accelerate tourism recovery, but it will also be an opportunity to showcase to the world not only what the county has to offer, but also Kenya at large. 

The event, which is governed and organised by Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) will take place between June 24 and June 27 and is expected to bring together over 5,000 guests and pump over Sh6 billion to the economy. 

Speaking during the opening of a capacity-building training ahead of the rally recently, Nakuru county Trade and Tourism Chief Executive Secretary Raymond Komen said the county is prepared to ensure that there will be flawless hospitality experience during the event.

“We have trained close to 500 hospitality staff members who will be in contact with participants, officials and guests.

Those trained are expected to go back and train their colleagues to ensure that nothing is left to chance,” he said.

He termed the safari rally as a high-end lifestyle sport, which attracts a diverse set of fans, including the elite, famous and people with high spending power.

“We must strive to attract and convince them to come back and invest in Nakuru,” he said. 

On his part, Nakuru county governor Lee Kinyanjui described the event as a shot in the arm for the hospitality industry, which has been on its knees since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country last year.

“This will be a big win for our hotels, most of which are nearly fully booked for the days during which the event will take place,” said Kinyanjui. 

Trade opportunuities campaign

Kinyanjui urged tours and travel companies to capitalise on the event and come up with packages that will encourage visitors to tour various tourist attractions in the county. 

He also noted that the county government is set to increase awareness campaigns on the event to the local populace with an aim of informing them about available opportunities of trade.

Much is going on in the preparation of the historic event. The WRC safari rally will not just be hosted in Nakuru county this year, but for three consecutive years (2021-2023), and will cover three Nakuru sub counties- Gilgil, Naivasha and Nakuru Town West.

Tourism players are upping their game to ensure that the services they deliver are top notch.

They have collaborated with WRC safari rally secretariat and institutions of higher learning to train staff members in preparation for the rally. 

David Mwangi, the Chairman Nakuru county Tourism Association says although they are not sure if the event will be open to spectators, the hospitality sector is ready for everyone.

“Because of the multitude of people this event will attract, most hotels have recalled workers who had been sent home initially because of the Covid-19 impact,” he says.

Chui Lodge manager Gilbert Ombeva is glad that Naivasha is getting noticed, both locally and internationally. “There have been various preparations, such as improving road networks and training of hospitality staff to ensure quality service delivery,” he notes.

“However, we are all new to this and there is a lot of speculation with regards to expectations and best way to meet them,” he adds.

Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) CEO Agnes Mucuha reiterates that the event will be a big boost to the industry as a source of business to the tourism industry.

“When big events come to town, the entire tourism and hospitality industry benefits.

Travel agents will play a big role in handling the travel logistics and itinerary for the officials, participants and other guests in the highly anticipated event,” she explains. 

For Eliud Ndung’u CEO of Safiri Nasi tour company,  Nakuru town has been a hard destination to sell and most domestic tourists will be there just for two or three days while foreign tourists will only go for a game drive at the Lake Nakuru National Park.

“Well, apart from Naivasha, which is commonly known, if you are not taking guests for a game drive at Nakuru National Park, Menengai Crater or Lord Egerton Castle, then you don’t have any other popular attraction to woe them in.

Most domestic clients visit Nakuru for short weekend stays probably for a drink up weekend, or a closed party,” he says.

The safari rally will be run around Hell’s Gate (power stage), Soysambu, Elementaita, Sleeping Warrior, Malewa, Loldia, Kasarani SSS, and Kedong adjacent to Sopa Lodge.

Rush to book hotels

A spot check by Travelwise reveals that most hotels are booked to the brim during the rally duration.

At Enashipai Resort & Spa, the hotel is booked fully for the first two days and the last two days are at 90 per cent booking.

Naivasha Kongoni Lodge and Lake Naivasha Resort are 80 per cent booked. Sawela lodge and Lake Naivasha Panorama Park have also received a good number of bookings.

Airbnb facilities have also not been left behind with most of them fully booked during the entire rally period.

George Karimi, one of the Airbnb hosts says that demand for such facilities is high.

“Hosts who have registered their properties on the Airbnb platform have been receiving overwhelming bookings during the WRC.

This shows that people have started accepting sharing economy, which is set to transform the travel industry,” says Karimi.

This will be the third safari rally to be held in Nakuru county this year. Earlier on, the county hosted the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Equator safari rallies.

A total of 58 drivers have been confirmed for the event, 24 of them foreigners with the most prominent being Frenchman Sébastien Ogier who has claimed seven WRC titles in the last eight seasons.

Other notable foreign names in the rally are 2019 WRC champion Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo, Thierry Neuville and Pierre-Louis Loubet.

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