What you need to know:
- The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, as the East African Coronation Safari in Kenya, Uganda and then Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
- In 1960, it was renamed the East African Safari Rally and kept that name until 1974, when it became the Kenya Safari Rally.
As Kenya gears up to host the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally next month, hospitality sector players in Nakuru County are hoping to reap from the event that is expected to attract thousands of international and local visitors.
The Kenyan leg of the global competition will be held from March 28-31 in Nairobi and Naivasha, according to the calendar released by the Federation Internationale de I’ Automobile (FIA).
“Preparations are in top gear to ensure that the event, regarded as the toughest rally in the world, becomes successful and memorable,” revealed the event’s director, Mr Jim Kahumbura.
"Since the Safari Rally returned to the WRC calendar, it has not been held on its traditional Easter weekend, with the 2023 event held in June. The return to the Easter weekend is good news to fans," added Mr Kahumbura.
The WRC is set to be hosted for a fourth time in a row in Kenya, bringing together over 6,000 guests and pumping over Sh7 billion into the economy.
"We have been working behind the scenes for months now and we’re raring to go. Foreign drivers will arrive 10 days before the rally. Afterwards, they are planning to visit Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Narok and Diani at the coast,” Mr Kahumbura said.
Pointing out that each team comes with a crew of at least 100 people and that three teams are expected to attend, the organiser said over 300 rally personnel would participate, “not to mention foreign journalists and rallying enthusiasts.”
“We expect the event to pump in at least Sh7 billion into the Kenyan economy,” he said. Tourism stakeholders are upbeat that the event will boost the sector.
"We are ready to showcase Nakuru to the world and promote local tourism,” Nakuru County Tourism Association Chairman David Mwangi said yesterday.
“Our tourism and hospitality sectors will greatly reap from the WRC. Most of our three- and four-star hotels in Naivasha and along the main sections of the rallying circuit will greatly benefit,” said Mr Mwangi.
“This is a huge boost to tourism facilities both in Nakuru City and Naivasha. We have high expectations that the rally championships will see injection of billions to the hospitality sector,” he said.
“There will be direct benefits in Naivasha from hotels, leisure, fuel consumption, transport facilities, temporary employment and much more and we are already preparing for the event," added Mr Mwangi.
East African Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Njuguna Kamau described the motorsport event as “a windfall”.
"Hosting WRC in Naivasha, is a big boost to the tourism industry and other businesses,” he said.
“We expect to earn billions of shilings by the end of the event," Mr Njuguna added.
Nakuru County Tourism Executive Stephen Kuria said yesterday that the county governnent was fully prepared to host the Safari Rally.
“The WRC is part of our heritage and we are ready to hold a memorable Safari Rally this year.The event will play a key role in boosting domestic tourism, "said Mr Kuria.
Many more people are expected to attend this year's event than was the case last year, since schools will be closed during the Easter weekend.
WRC Safari Rally reverts to its traditional Easter holidays schedule for the first time in 27 years.
For fans, it brings back nostalgic memories when they used to enjoy the action across the country as they cheered on local drivers like Patrick Njiru and the late Jonathan Toroitich, the eldest son of Kenya's second President Daniel Arap Moi.
In 2021, former President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a pact to keep the event in the WRC calendar until 2026.
Last year, thousands of people comprising spectators from Kenya and all over the world graced the Safari Rally, injecting billions into the country’s economy.
In Nakuru County, hotels such as Enashipai Resort and Spa, Sawela Lodge, Naivasha Kongoni Lodge, Lake Naivasha Resort and Lake Naivasha Panorama Park are preparing to host visitors during the event.
Other businesses that are set to benefit are dealers in petroleum products, food and beverages, the entertainment and hospitality industries and hawkers.
Owners of palatial homes with spacious grounds who are willing to rent them out and operators of short-term rentals are also expected to make a killing.
“Last year was like a tutorial class. We learnt a lot after failing to accommodate the high number of visitors trooping to Naivasha.This time we are preparing adequately," said Mr Albert Muli, a local hotel owner.
Renowned safari rally drivers like Carl Tundo will take part in this year’s event.
Foreign drivers and their back-up teams and families come from as far as Europe, Asia, the rest of Africa and the Americas.
The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, as the East African Coronation Safari in Kenya, Uganda and then Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1960, it was renamed the East African Safari Rally and kept that name until 1974, when it became the Kenya Safari Rally.
It then evolved to the modern-day WRC. Today, the Safari Rally is the most popular event on the WRC calendar alongside the 1000 Lakes of Finland and the Monte Carlo rallies.