Late last month, PAX travelled to Kenya with VoX International and the Kenya Tourist Board for a week of exploration and discovery of what the East African country has to offer.
This ecologically and culturally diverse destination is famously known as the birthplace of humanity thanks to various archeological findings and is celebrated for its Big Five safari offerings, the friendliness of its 45 million inhabitants and its year-round travel opportunities.
With its well-developed luxury travel sector and variety of regions, spanning from endless grasslands, snow-capped mountain ranges, sparkling coastlines and gradually expanding metropolis, Kenya is in a prime position to boost its tourism numbers in the next few years, especially as long-haul global travel becomes increasingly accessible to more people.
Here are a just a few things PAX learned about Kenya’s tourism scene, and what Canada’s Kenya and safari specialists should be keeping an eye on.
There’s more to Nairobi than its international airport
For many years, Nairobi, Kenya’s bustling capital city - and home to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as well as four million people - has served as little more than an arrival spot for safari-bound tourists, particularly those arriving in Kenya for the first time.
But between the city’s newest addition of the ultra-lux and chic Radisson Blu to its accommodation scene; its eclectic shopping scene and nightlife; the hands-on experiences found of its conservation-minded Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage; its 12,000-hectare Nairobi National Park and the historically enriching Nairobi National and Karen Blixen museums, Kenya’s capital has a steadily expanding wealth of attractions and activities which make for an ideal pre- or post-stay for anyone passing through.
Travel agent expertise is invaluable
With seven ecologically distinct regions, 23 national parks, 28 national reserves, four national sanctuaries and countless tented camps, luxury lodges and hotels to choose from, agents who can provide expert advice on navigating Kenya’s widespread selection of touristic experiences are considered essential – and are much appreciated – by the destination’s travel industry.
“Kenya is a complicated destination,” Nils Axing, general manager at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club told PAX, referring in particular to the transportation requirements involved in getting travellers from point A to point B (PAX took no less than four bush planes throughout the week-long trip).
“There’s a lot to consider, especially for first-time visitors. Having someone with insider knowledge, who has experienced the destination and can offer personal tips and advice – well, that’s invaluable.”
Moreover, as Nairobi grows as a diverse cosmopolitan destination in its own right, so will the need for advisors who can speak to the city’s attractions, accommodation, nightlife, and culinary scene. Suffice to say – if you aren’t already selling Kenya, you may want to consider getting started.
When it comes to experiential add-ons, you get so much more for less
Remember when that romantic dinner for two at that beach resort in Mexico ran you a cool $200 USD? In Kenya, the fees associated with making a trip extra-special run shockingly low when compared to those of the Caribbean.
PAX’s Britney Hope had the opportunity to sample a private horseback safari (complete with a hyena and albino zebra sighting) for the astonishing price of $25 USD, while an early-morning slope breakfast along the scenic ridge of Mount Kenya ran guests about $50. Later on in the luxury tented accommodations of Mara Ngenche Safari Camp, a world-class therapeutic massage tallied up at around $30.
So, while a safari vacation may be listed in the higher-end range overall, it’s worth noting that once there, the price for an intimate bush dinner, picnic on the Mara or sunset pedicure will not add much to the bill.
Voluntourism is being done right
With volunteer and ethical tourism on the rise in many mainstream tour and cruise sectors, the practice behind bringing paying travellers into rural communities to ‘help’ requires more scrutiny than ever when ensuring oneself of the benefits.
Enter Free the Children’s WE Villages program (FTC), a five-pillar development model where the communities comes first - and volunteer visitors are simply guests who are allowed to help.
PAX had the opportunity to visit Me to We’s (Free the Children’s charity partner) Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp, a comfortable and well-appointed property with an emphasis on culturally authentic and environmentally-friendly accommodation located alongside the Maasai Mara.
In short: tourists are welcome to participate in school-building, well-drilling and other development activities, but with one thing made clear: don’t go looking to save anyone; you’re more of a guest being given access to authentic local culture than a helper from afar.
Travel to Kenya is set to simplify
Direct flights from the U.S. to Nairobi are expected to begin later this year, according to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, who welcomed U.S. safety inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration for an audit of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport just last week, according to a report by The East African.
Non-stop flights from the U.S. to Kenya have been on the books since January 2016, but it seems the possibility of eliminating arduous European layovers is now closer than ever, with direct service expected to be departing from New York or Washington DC within the next year.