A small brownish, pretty catamaran sails slowly along the Tudor Creek in Mombasa. It is moored on the pier, a location facing the English Point Marina. It dances on water for about 15 minutes before it sails further ahead.
In it, is a family of Kenyans.
A few years ago, sailing on Indian Ocean aboard a luxurious boat was a preserve of international millionaires or foreign tourists who had saved up to come and enjoy Africa’s bliss.
But as tourism trends shift, more Kenyans with disposable income are splurging on fine travel; sailing, sports fishing, jet skiing, kite surfing and even rubbing shoulders with the international billionaire holidaymakers as they dine by the sea.
Africa’s elite are developing a taste for the finer things in life and rather than vacation in Dubai or Paris, they are making merry at local five-star destinations or exclusive islands such as Chale frequented by rich Italians.
Richard Glaser, the group sales and marketing manager at The Sands at Nomad and Chale Island in Diani, said indeed they have seen an increase of domestic tourists in both the resorts.
‘‘Most come from Nairobi, thanks also to the local airline connection directly to Ukunda and we also seen an increase in guests from Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia,’’ he said.
The Sands at Chale Island charged Sh55,500 per person per night for the suite on the rocks during the holiday season and Sh47,000 for the over-water suite. Guests also paid an additional Sh5,000 for gala dinner supplements for Christmas Day’s eve and New Year’s eve.
In Malindi and Kilifi, hoteliers say about 70 per cent of the holidaymakers who had bookings from November to December last year were locals.
“Kenyans, compared to foreigners, are very serious spenders and when they decide to drink and have fun they have it hard,” said Philip Chai, the Kilifi County Hoteliers Association chairman.
“We noticed the trend last year… 70 per cent of those who holidayed with us were Kenyans mostly from upcountry. We highly appreciate this.”
Next 10 years
Mr Chai, who is also the manager of Billionaires Resort, a luxury serviced apartment hotel in Malindi, said it hosted a group of 11 locals from Nairobi during the December holiday. The hotel with employees who were trained in Italy charges rents out an apartments to tourists at a cost of between Sh60,000 to Sh120,000 per night.
Billionaires Resort, is another of Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore’s high class properties which is a favourite of high-end tourists.
The high spender, who was once a Formula One racing teams manager (most recently with Renault F1) has a projected net worth of $150 million (Sh16 billion).
When he checked into his luxurious Lion in The Sun hotel recently, he was accompanied by moguls Presta Lucio, Bruno Michael and also Italo Mariani, a renowned Italian shoe designer, Mr Chai said.
“In the past, we have not been talking a lot to locals but to foreign markets but as much as we are a five star resort, our charges are quite affordable. We want to do more in having more locals touring the resort,” he said.
The hotel manager said what draws many to Billionaires Resort in addition to its exquisite ambience is its award-winning spa.
“If you are 45- years- old and come into our spa, you leave feeling like a 16-year-old,” said Mr Chai, adding that tourists come as far as Russia just to be pampered at the Thalaspa Henri Chenot.
Tourists also enjoy private jet rides. Those staying at Billionaires Club and Lion In The Sun also enjoy boat rides into the deep seas.
For Sh120,000, the boat takes you to the magical little-known Mayungu and Sardegna Due islands.
“We offer full catering including barbecue grilling onboard,” said Mr Chai.
Hotels also cashed in on the New Year’s Eve. For instance, the quaint Beach Bar, nestled in Vipingo, a few kilometres from the prestigious residential golf development Vipingo Ridge, attracted a substantial number of locals to the end year party whose entrance tickets cost Sh14,000 per person.
Kenya is growing into a luxury destination for the super-rich attracting many celebrities such as musician Madonna, celebrated Elle model Hu Bing and actress Kerry Washington who acted as Olivia Pope in the television series Scandal.
Last year, Africans vacationing at Richard Branson’s tented luxury eco-camp Mahali Mzuri in Maasai Mara may have mingled with Kerry Washington who was on holiday with her partner.
Since it opened three years ago, Mahali Mzuri has been receiving about 95 per cent of foreign travellers, but this is changing with African vacationers visiting.
Nichola Waterhouse, the general manager, said to court locals, the hotel offers ‘‘up to 50 per cent off the rates for East African residents.’’
Renowned American film director and two-time academy-award nominee, Spike Lee was also on the who-is-who list of those who toured Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve over the holiday season.
The “Do the Right Thing” filmmaker also visited and planted trees in a local Maasai village as tribute to recently departed celebrities George Michael, Prince, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Phife Dawg and Bill Nunn.
Locals are also staying in lodges such as Saruni Samburu located on the top of a rocky outcrop in a conservancy bordering a national reserve where helicopter excursions can be organised.
The lodge which offers visitors organic soaps and lotions charges double rooms from about Sh92,000 in low season, rising to about Sh150,000 during peak times.
Kenya Tourism Board chief executive Betty Radier said in a past interview that the country’s potential as a destination of choice continues to be affirmed through the years with some like Richard Branson translating the destination to a choice destination for investment.
“We have a country that is appealing, we must tell our story to the world unreservedly,” said Dr Radier.
As more sophisticated travellers explore new attractions, quality of hotels is getting higher and higher to match their fine taste.
Hoteliers predict that the numbers of domestic travellers paying over Sh50,000 a day on accommodation will rise sharply in the next five to 10 years as money pours into the Kenyan economy.
Mohamed Hersi, CEO of Heritage Hotels, said the domestic market has come of age.
‘‘International business in many resorts [during the holidays] was hardly 20 per cent in the North Coast while South Coast had 40 per cent of foreign bookings. But a majority of hotels had 80 per cent local bookings and above,’’ he said.
However, Mr Hersi said the biggest challenge remains accessibility.
‘‘We need the government to attract more investors who choose to fly between Nairobi and Kenya coast and also internationally,” he said.
Globally, in terms of hotel stays, the luxury hospitality market is enjoying steady growth in volume, with a seven per cent year-on-year growth from 2014-2015, according to Amadeus report, a travel technology that helps businesses connect to the global travel ecosystem.
One key trend driving the future of luxury travel is the shift in values from the material to the experiential— rather than saving up to buy luxurious possessions, people are choosing to spend their money on experiences.
‘‘For the rich, luxury travel is the exclusive hiring of a castle, private jet pick-ups, organised musical band and dancers being watched while one eats strawberries dipped in chocolate and drinking champagne. Or being asked for a giant ice vase to be delivered to a loved one’s apartment with 100 tulips inside,’’ notes the Amadeus report.