Icon Mt Kenya hotels remain closed during festive season

Treetops hotel

The dining room at the Treetops Hotel in Nyeri County.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Most hotels closed and scaled down their operations at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
  • This year has also seen the hospitality industry shift its focus to the domestic market because of travel restrictions.

Most of the historic hotels in the Mt Kenya region remain closed to the public even in this festive season.

Five such facilities shut at different times in 2020 or earlier this year are still not operating even though it is the tourism high season.

They include Treetops, Outspan, Serena Mountain Lodge, Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club and Green Hills.

Most hotels closed and scaled down their operations at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

This year has also seen the hospitality industry shift its focus to the domestic market because of travel restrictions and the discovery of new Covid-19 variants.

But big hotels that mostly depended on international tourists and are some of the top destinations in the region have been hurt because of low visitor numbers.

In Nyeri County, two iconic hotels - Treetops and Outspan - which were started by Eric Sherbrooke in the 1920s, shut in April last year and remain closed.

A source privy to the goings-on at Aberdare Safari Ltd, which owns the businesses, told the Nation that there were no plans to reopen Treetops, which in its heyday attracted scores of British, Spanish, Chinese and American tourists.

“But as from next year, discussions on how to revive the business are set to start,” explained the source, who sought anonymity as he is not allowed to speak to the media.

Outspan hotel
Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Over the years, Treetops earned global recognition as the hotel where Queen Elizabeth II went to bed as a princess and woke up the next day as a queen following the death of King George VI.

The queen has since visited the hotel three times - in 1952, 1959 and 1983.

As for Outspan, on the outskirts of Nyeri town, it was put up for sale for Sh550 million three months ago.

The facility was home to the founder of the Scouts movement, Lord Baden-Powell, from 1938 to 1941.

The Paxtu cottage, on the grounds of the hotel, was where Lord Baden-Powell lived until his death, making it one of the most iconic destinations for the global Scouts movement.

The cottage is a museum that holds Lord Baden-Powell’s original paintings, writings, photos and scouting relics.

The Kenya Scouts Association (KSA) is among the entities that has expressed interest in purchasing the property, which lies on 120 acres.

Speaking to the Nation yesterday, Mr Anthony Kitonga, a member of the international Scout Association Board, said they were still appraising the property.

Another hotel that has remained shut is the Serena Mountain Lodge, on Chaka Road in Nyeri. It closed down last year.

This was followed by a notice issued last month by the Mountain Lodges Ltd (MLL) board of directors, seeking a new tenant.

Green Hills

The entrance to Green Hills Hotel in Nyeri town.

Photo credit: Nicholas Komu | Nation Media Group

This was after Serena Hotels, which had previously leased the property, opted out of a 22-year partnership agreement with MLL in December 2019, just before the pandemic struck.

In the notice published in the Nation on November 2, the board invited proposals from qualified management companies willing to lease or manage the property.

Before its closure, the hotel, located at 2,194 metres on the slopes of Mt Kenya, was famed for its forest adventures.

Another hotel is Green Hills in Nyeri town. It is associated with former President Mwai Kibaki.

The facility, established in the 1970s, has closed and reopened twice since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, finally shutting its doors in March this year.

Calls to the hotel yesterday went unanswered, with a former employee, who sought anonymity, revealing that the facility’s management laid off all workers when it closed.

Green Hills had over the years built its reputation by becoming one of Nyeri’s landmark hotels, especially for visitors hoping to stay within the town.

It was famed for its family-friendly environment and conference facilities.

The hotel had invested a lot in offering team-building activities for company groups.

In Nanyuki, the Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club has been closed for more than one year and a half.

Treetops Hotel

The Treetops Hotel in Nyeri.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Someone at the reception desk told the Nation by phone that there was no official communication on when the business will reopen.

The hotel is owned by the Fairmont Hotels and Resort Group on behalf of Kenyan businessman Humphrey Kariuki.

It is home to the endangered bongo antelope. Statistics show that there are only about 100 such antelopes in Kenya.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Mt Kenya region chairperson Edward Wangechi said that following the closure of the big hotels, investors in such businesses are only clinging to hope, waiting to see what happens next as the pandemic has become unpredictable.

The owners’ main focus, he said, is on how to maintain their premises. “although in other cases, some investors are opting to leave the businesses to their fellow partners”.

The government last year cushioned the hospitality industry by issuing a Sh2 billion stimulus package.

But according to Mr Wangechi, most hoteliers stayed away from the initiative because of the stringent measures imposed by the government in applying for loans.

“The government was asking for too much from the hoteliers, who were already suffering under the impact of low tourism numbers,” he said.

To survive in the market, Mr Wangechi noted, some of the big hotel brands have this year diversified their businesses to accommodate local tourists.

A good example, he said, is the Sarova Group of Hotels, which recently opened two new restaurants in Nairobi in different locations focusing mainly on takeaway food.