KenGen targets tourism cash with mega Olkaria health spa

The Olkaria  spa  bath  under construction.
The Olkaria spa bath under construction. courtesy   Nation Media Group

State-owned electricity producer KenGen is building a multi-million shilling natural health spa at its Olkaria geothermal fields, opening up a  window for the firm to tap into the growing tourism market.

Construction of the spa, which is to consist of four interconnected lagoons, a sauna and a steam bath is under way on an expansive piece of land to the west of Olkaria II power plant. Sponsors describe it as the biggest natural spa in Africa with the capacity to host 500 people at once.

“The natural spa is expected to increase by many folds the number of local and international tourists visiting Hells Gate National Park,” KenGen managing director Eddy Njoroge said.

The project expected to cost Sh25 million is set for completion in February next year and has the backing of the Kenya Wildlife Service, which owns the park.

Visitors to the park, to be rebranded as the only park in Africa with a health spa, will pay normal park entrance fees and pay KenGen an additional fee to use the recreation facility.

KWS charges Sh300 for citizens and residents while children pay Sh200 to get into Hell’s Gate National Park, which is a member of the Scenic and Special Interest Parks. Foreign tourists pay $15, the equivalent of Sh1,275 at current exchange rates.
“The centre will act as a marketing point for other direct uses of geothermal energy in the region. Ventures such as heating of greenhouses and residential homes can be replicated where geothermal resources exist,” Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant manager Godfrey Muchemi said.

The spa — to be known as the Direct Use Centre — would also host a geological and geothermal museum tracking the development of geothermal resources in Kenya as well as progression of global technology for converting steam into economic activities.

The first, second and third lagoons have diameters of 30, 40 and 70 metres while the fourth, the children’s pond will be 10 metres wide. The lagoons will have stairs to the depth of the pools.
Temperatures in the largest lagoon designated for public use would be between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius.

The sauna is designed to use brine running water in naked pipes at 150 degrees Celsius and the heat generated raising the temperature of the room designated as the sauna. 

Health experts say steam bathing softens the skin, reduces cholesterol and slows down aging. “Visitors will use steam bath from the hot brine that will be vented into the steam bath enclosure,” Mr Muchemi said.   

The brine is known to contain antibacterial chemicals that heal skin diseases and rushes.
In Iceland, for instance, the hot water contains minerals like silica and sulphur that is known to help treat skin diseases such as psoriasis.
KenGen senior communications manager Kaara Wainaina said the lagoon would ride on the growing popularity of balneology and therapeutic effect of natural spas around the world.

“The primary goal is to showcase the many uses  geothermal resources can be put into. The health spa is expected to mark Kenya’s decisive entry into non-traditional tourism products,” Mr Wainaina said.

He added that a reasonable fee just to cover maintenance of the facility would be charged to enhance the uptake of a service by Kenyans who have grown to consider spas, saunas and steam baths a preserve of the rich.

“We are looking at volumes rather than margins,” said Mr Muchemi adding that the pricing structure would be arrived at before the facility is commissioned next year.

Industry players welcomed the initiative saying it would help Kenya exploit opportunities in the health segment of tourism. “New products are always welcome.

“There are already several hotels offering spas but not to this scale,” said Kenya Association of Tour Operators chief executive officer Fred Kaigua.
The global spa industry is growing steadily as people become more health conscious and, with rising incomes, more willing to spend on their well-being.

Standard charge
In Kenya, spas are now a common feature in hotels and resorts offering a wide range of treatments including basic massage, body wraps, scrubs, and specialised treatments including Ayurveda.

Health clubs, including the spa, state-of-the-art gymnasiums and swimming pools are now a vital selling point for hotels.

Some establishments at the Coast have invested heavily in health tourism facilities and changed their names led by the Sarova Whitesands & Spa Resort and Leopard Beach Resort & Spa.

Enashipai Resort & Spa, one of the newest properties in Naivasha, is looking to open a facility this month that will offer different therapies including mud rooms and a top of the range health bar. Treatments are priced at Sh3,000 upwards depending on the establishment, type of treatment and duration. Some of the facilities have unique packages including detox offered in their spas. 

KenGen’s entry into the spa business is an attempt to replicate the success of the Blue Lagoon spa in Iceland. The spa, which is located deep in the heart of the Svartsengi Resource Park, runs on geothermal seawater whose temperatures range between 37 and 39 degrees Celsius.

The water is said to contain algae, silica and minerals that offer natural treatment for psoriasis, a skin disease.

The standard charge for use of the Blue Lagoon is 35 euros (Sh3,850) but premium services go for between 80 euros (Sh8,800) and 135 euros (Sh14,850).

Other renowned natural spas in the world include Whakarewarewa in New Zealand, commonly referred to as the living thermal village; Karlovy Vary thermal mineral springs in the Czech Republic, Hamam in Turkey and Arenal Volcano and Thermal Baths in Costa Rica where tourists pay $65 (Sh5525) per session)

Others are the Lake Hévíz thermal bath in Hungary, El Tatio in Andes, Chile where the charges are $100 (Sh8,500). Others are Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia; Therme Vals in Switzerland and Bad Gleichenberg in Austria.