What you need to know:
- Kevin and Faith Kiiru are touring the country, after they sold off all their belongings and left Nairobi
- Although dedicating their life to travel is not so common in Kenya, another alternative, staycation, is being embraced in the country
- Ole-Sereni hotel confirms the trend and says the hotel has adjusted to accommodate couples
The year 2020 means many things to different people. For Faith and Kevin Kiiru, it was the year they finally took a big leap and followed their dream of exploring Kenya. On 30th September 2020, the young couple made the decision to sell off all their belongings, packed up what they could, and left Nairobi for Kilifi.
"When we met, Kev had a vision book of the places he wanted to travel to, while I had an undying passion to be anywhere I have never been. But for a long time financial worries and societal opinions held us back from traveling. But when Covid-19 struck, and we watched people close to us lose their loved ones, the reality of 'life is short' became so REAL. We prayed about it, it felt right and peaceful so we left with our two little girls," says Faith Kiiru.
Faith and Kevin Kiiru became a traveling family, opened up social media accounts, and started documenting their travel from October 2020 as the Travel BucketListers.
"We believe in putting money where your priority lies. So yes, travel is expensive, but it so because we are accustomed to traveling in a certain way for specific things. Kev has always tracked our finances in a spreadsheet, we just transferred our monthly expenses into monthly expenses on the road. That meant, in some places, we could compromise on the type of accommodation just to fuel our dream. We're both digital nomads meaning we freelance on the go," explains Faith.
So far the family of four has toured 27 counties of the 47 in Kenya. But they are working towards visiting them all.
"Kenya is home, and even though the saying charity begins at home is cliché, we believe in it. We want to start with home. We want to go out there as true ambassadors of our country. When we meet foreigners, we want to be able to boldly sell the beauty of Kenya not just from a "we heard" point of view but from a "we have been there"," says Kevin.
More Kenyans enjoying vacations
Although dedicating their life to travel is not so common in Kenya, another alternative, staycation, is being embraced in the country. According to the oxford dictionary, a staycation is a holiday spent in one's home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.
Bountiful safaris, a Travel, and Tours Company, says Kenyans are traveling more and more to local destinations since they have become more affordable.
"Guys were tired of staying home and there was a new division in marketing (in tourism industry), guys got more creative to make an extra coin. Hotels also loosened their rates," said Esther Njoroge, CEO of Bountiful Safaris.
Bountiful says the most popular destinations for its customers are in the outcasts of Nairobi; Coast, Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Nanyuki, and Chalbi desert.
"For Valentines, we are full in coastal regions and the better part of Mara and Nanyuki," says Esther Njoroge.
Trouble in paradise?
Another Tours and Travel company, Trippy Go Tours, also reports high demand for local travel.
"There are now more Kenyans vacationing. Post Covid-19 when the restrictions were lowered we got a lot of demand for the Maasai Mara during the wildebeest migration then in December people opted for the coast, especially Diani," says Ronald Omondi, Marketing manager, Trippy Go Tours.
Poor performance in the tourism industry late last year was captured by the Quarterly Gross Domestic Product Report 3rd Quarter by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The sector declined by 57.9 percent as compared to the 9.9 percent growth experienced towards the end of 2019.
Activities related to accommodation and food service were adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. This led to either complete business closure or significantly scaled-down operations. Despite easing of the containment measures, the sector was struggling to overcome the effects of the earlier restrictive measures.
Staycations then stepped up. The major winners were budget hotels, Airbnb, and private villas.
"For us, there are more staycations in Nairobi. Ole Sereni Ibis hotels are some of the most popular places locals are going to," says Ronald Omondi, Marketing manager, Trippy Go Tours.
Paradise behooves locals
One of the most frequented high-end restaurants in Nairobi, Ole Sereni's boss attests to this.
"The DNA of Ole Sereni has always been a local hotel with global standards," says Ghulam Samdani, GCEO for 254 Ole-Sereni and Emara, Ole-Sereni.
But even with its local popularity, to have a more local feel and target more locals, the luxurious hotel has built a new hotel Emara that would offer services to customers with more expensive tastes.
"Staycation is up and we have made the product more acceptable for the locals. The old Ole-Sereni is now 254 and is a mid-market brand and the Emara Ole-Sereni is a five star," Mr. Samdani says.
With no other hotel bordering the national park, the hotel has seen an upward trend with more locals visiting the hotel in the last five months.
"We were getting restaurant and bar customers, but accommodation has recently picked up to 35 to 40 percent," says Mr. Samdani.
Still, the hotel has had to be very particular with health protocols.
"We have sanitising corners, temperature testing, social distancing… for us, it's not just about the business," says Mr. Samdani.
This being a month of love, the hotel has released prime Valentine's packages that will get one lucky couple a luxurious treat.
"We have a Presidential suite going for Sh350,000 for a night. It will be out of the ordinary, we pick you up from home, you get a private butler, private chef (based on your food choice), have a fully stocked bar, massages, and we send you to Nairobi National Park for a game drive and back for more pampering," says the Ole-Sereni boss.
Staycations for love birds
Depending on your pocket you can enjoy the staycation offer at the Ole-Sereni or other offers in the market, such as the Nairobi Serena hotel for as low as Sh22000 or as high as Sh500,000 on a tailor-made staycation package for Valentines.
Ole Sereni, in a campaign with the Saturday Magazine, is giving away a fully paid one-night staycation for lucky couples.