The buzz around Nairobi’s hospitality industry is by now familiar. International brands have set up or are planning to set up facilities in the capital in the last few years in what analysts claim is a boon for business travellers. In the just concluded General Election, city hotels saw a lot of business as observers and foreign media corps jostled for space.
The trend in the focus of business travellers is, however, not a preserve of the capital. Towns designated as county headquarters or set strategically in the regions are seeing the same trend, the only difference is that the hotels setting up here are mostly homegrown brands.
Take Meru, for instance. This is one such urban centre coming out of the shadows of neighbouring Nanyuki.
Meru has always been in the shadows of neighbouring Laikipia, and at one time Isiolo when it comes to tourism and hospitality. This is, however, changing. Meru town has in the last few years seen the construction of hotels targetting busines travellers.
During the campaign period, hoteliers were abuzz with expectetaion and optimist when President Uhuru Kenyatta made history as the first sitting Head of State to spend the night in the town, which has wlagged behind in providing quality accommodation.
This is despite its strategic location on the busy Meru-Nanyuki Road. To the North is the Meru National Park, which boasts top-range tourist hotels. However, there was hardly any good hotels for business travellers who had to travel all the way to Nanyuki, says James Kithinji, the manager of Three Steers Hotel, one of the largest hotels in Meru.
Visiting Meru in June, President Kenyatta had dinner and spent the night at Alba Hotel, located in the cool Milimami area behind the Slopes Hotel (where Nasa leader Raila Odinga spent the night during campaign in the area).
Dennis Muthuri, the hotel’s marketing and sales boss, says that was a major show of confidence in the county’s hospitality industry.
“He was accommodated in our presidential suite which has a Jacuzzi,” he said, adding that the four-star hotel offers presidential services. The Alba boasts 51 en-suite rooms. It opened its doors in 2013.
While President Kenyatta slept at the hotel (the first building in Meru to install a lift), his deputy William Ruto spent the night at Three Steers in Makutano.
Kithinji of Three Steers says their presidential suite on one of the top floors is designed to offer comfort and convenience for the customer. On a clear day, a guest is able to have a good view of Mount Kenya. “The growth of Meru’s accommodation started five years ago. When retired President Mwai Kibaki visited years back, he had to go to Sagana Lodge and come back to Meru the following day,” Kithinji said, adding: “Today, we have presidential accommodation facilities. It is a milestone.”
Three Steers was one of the hotels that hosted governors and other guests who attended the 2016 Devolution Conference. Others included Slopes, Heritage Nkubu, Elsa, Paramount, Blue Towers, Westwind and Gatimene. Meru County has a total of 2,500 hotel beds.
Kithinji says that the recent opening of the new Isiolo International Airport is a boon to the hospitality industry. The airport is a 30-minute drive from Meru Town via Ruiri-Isiolo Road.