Hoteliers, traders jostle for piece of Sh6bn rally windfall


Finland's Kalle Rovenpera navigated by Jonne Haltunnen racing on a Toyota Yaris in full cruise during Shakedown Loldia stage on June 22, 2022, during WRC safari rally Kenya. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Palatial homeowners with spacious grounds in Naivasha are hurriedly setting up tents to cash in on the windfall from the World Rally Championship.

With lodging spaces having been problematic during last year’s event, ingenuity is at play as business people use every opportunity to make money.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the patron of the Safari Rally, said on Thursday the motor sport event boosted the county’s economy by injecting Sh6 billion during the first edition last year.

Visitors are expected to spend on accommodation, food and drinks, transport, reservation services (for instance, tour agencies and operations) and attractions (mainly, nature and culture-based).

“The historic nature of this rally is undeniable. Last year (2021), a record of 78 million people in 150 countries watched the rally, with every sector sharing in the pie, including players in the hospitality and transport sectors as well as micro, small and medium enterprises in Naivasha and its surrounding towns,” President Kenyatta said.

The family of Mercy Rahab is one of those that have turned their home into a mini tent hub.

Ms Rahab’s modern home nest on a rocky place, along the Naivasha-Maai Mahiu highway and is located at least three Kilometres from Naivasha town, giving lodgers a bird’s eye view of the Lake Naivasha.

The family owns a middle-level hotel within Naivasha town with 81-bed capacity but it was "overbooked" during the past event, forcing them to look for ways of cashing in on the motor racing fans.

"Last year was like a tutorial class. We learnt a lot after failing to accommodate the high number of visitors trooping to Naivasha town," said the businesswoman.

Those who will spend the night inside the well-guarded ground will part with Sh5,000 for a bed and breakfast stay.

The family has erected 40 tents, hoping to double the number if the number of clients increases during the coming days.

"We are well prepared for any eventuality," added Ms Rahab.

Entertainers are also preparing to make a killing from the event with a live band already on location.

Other land owners are leasing open grounds on the periphery of the lakeside town ahead of the main event.

A drive along the tourist Moi South Lake road shows the changing fortunes of the high-end land owners.

A prime land owner who sought anonymity said he had hired out his ground at a cool Sh2 million a day for all the time the drivers will be blowing dust in the wild.

"With no overhead cost...we can all agree it is good business. Some have been questioning the rationale of having an open-prime property but I think their concerns have now been answered," said the owner.

The 20 acres of land, he noted, has been booked for the famous Korogo festival — part of the WRC accredited entertainment joint — with the neighbouring land owners benefiting from the spillover.

Another land adjacent that has been apparently neglected for years has been cleared with the lowly casual workers benefitting from the economic trickle-down effect.

The land has been earmarked for the parking of vehicles for those attending the Korogo festival, further boosting the financial fortunes of the lakeside town.

Most of the high-end hotels, according to the Nakuru County Tourism Association (NCTA) Chairman David Mwangi have been fully booked starting Friday to Sunday.

“The hoteliers have little to complain about as most of the facilities have registered three days full bookings. In fact, the number is high compared to last year."

Hotels that have been fully booked include Enashipai, and Lake Naivasha Resort among other leading facilities, Mr Mwangi said. He said Airbnbs have also recorded unprecedented numbers unlike in the past.

“The facilities are offering job opportunities to unemployed graduates, especially in the hospitality industry and with the event happening during the high season we expect the good tidings to continue,” said Mr Mwangi

He, however, cautioned hoteliers against compromising the standards, saying the officials of the motorsport event were keen on details.

“Those given the task of hosting both local and international visitors should ensure they stick to the required standard as they try to maximise on profits. As a group, we shall be keeping our ears trained on the ground,” warned Mr Mwangi.

To avoid the gridlock witnessed last year, the rally organisers have created link routes that will ensure the cars will not drive through Naivasha town.

Local businesses in Naivasha hope the second edition of the World Rally Championship that kicks off today in Naivasha will boost the economic status of the Lakeside town.

“We expect that this year’s event will be bigger and even better. Already, the enthusiasm by spectators and the euphoria in cities and towns across the country is unmistakable,” President Kenyatta said on Friday at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre where he flagged off the Safari Rally.

Data from the State-backed Tourism Research Institute (TRI) shows the Naivasha event created 24,758 full-time equivalent jobs. These jobs generated Sh3.757 billion as labour income.

The Safari Rally has for decades been a much loved, adventurous part of Kenya’s history, as Kenyans watch local and foreign drivers fight it out in an epic and gruelling battle on long, dusty, rocky roads in picturesque scenery with wildlife freely roaming.

It’s the only African round in the WRC calendar and one of a few global motor racing events that have historically taken place on the continent.

Already a host of top rally stars from around the world have arrived on the country and have confirmed participation.

They include Frenchman Sébastien Loeb, the nine-time world WRC champion who will be making his return to the rally since 2002.

Loeb will be taking the battle to fellow compatriot and eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier who is also slotted for the Safari Rally encounter.