Homes

Homeowners turn empty rooms into money-makers

lodge

Mambo Sagana Comfort in Kirinyaga County. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NMG

Homeowners in Kirinyaga County whose children have left the nest are turning the empty rooms into money-making ventures as they capitalise on a shift in travellers’ accommodation preferences.

“From our market research, we realised that many travellers now prefer to stay in small units instead of hotels,” says Peter Irungu, one such homeowner who has invested in the business.

However, unlike elsewhere in the country where homestay investors employ individual strategies, in Kirinyaga they have partnered with the tourism players to ensure that high customer standards are met.

“During the past devolution conference (2019), one thing was evident: there was an acute shortage of bed capacity to accommodate the over 35,000 guests we had received from the 47 counties,” says Lee Daniel, the Mt Kenya Tourism Association coordinator.

The homeowners saw the low bed capacity as an opportunity to earn passive income and ran away with it.

“We saw a gap in the market in terms of providing a homely environment where people could come in, unwind, relax, and sleep while on transit,” adds Mr Irungu who owns Mambo Sagana Comfort.

Bob Waiganjo, the CEO and founder of Majibu Getaway says, “we embraced the homestay concept after realising that we had an accommodation shortage in the region especially if the county was to hold conferences.”

To meet the standards, the homeowners had to refurbish their properties, some spending as much as Sh5 million.

“We started by ensuring that the home to be refurbished was in a strategic location before we proceeded to renovate it to meet our customers’ standards,” says Mr Irungu.

According to Mr Waiganjo, “The modern guest looks for quality and so we had to ensure that the premises is ever in an excellent state of repair and is well-furnished depending on the desired theme. One has to also take time and resources in getting an impressive-looking home. This should be implemented right from the entryway as this is the place a visitor sees upon arrival.”

Converting homes into homestays has proved a lucrative venture with good returns, especially during peak seasons.

“Previously the house was a liability, but after refurbishment, I now charge an average of Sh2,000 a room {per day} for the four fully furnished rooms,” says Mr Irungu who is still working on converting other rooms.

mambo

Mambo Sagana Comfort in Kirinyaga County. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NMG

“We target families and groups who hire the place and are willing to stay in Sagana for long periods,” he adds.

To also showcase their rich cultural aspects and still enrich the guests’ travel experience, Mr Irungu says that they had to ensure that their clients got a firsthand experience of their native customs, traditions, and their local foods.

“In enriching our guests’ travel, we saw an opportunity in terms of providing authentic African foods including Kienyeji chicken, tilapia fish from Lake Victoria, pork, mukimo, traditional vegetables, and nyama choma,” Mr Irungu says.

To create a competitive edge, the management of Mambo Sagana Comfort ensured that the venture was always open to ensure that any local or international tourist could walk in, eat, relax and unwind at any time of day or night.

Though capital intensive, Mr Irungu says that the venture is worth the investment and that new investors should be patient and strive to grow customer business while targeting people who are looking for affordable and homelike accommodation in a serene and discreet environment.

In striving to maintain their clientele, Mr Waiganjo says, “we set standard prices that are not too high or too low so as not to either overcharge or undercharge the customer.

Mr Waiganjo further says that they capitalise on using digital marketing platforms and word of mouth to market their premises and services.

For a premise to attract and retain customers, he advises that entrepreneurs should focus on giving their best in terms of quality and excellent services.

To further sustain a business and remain competitive, entrepreneurs need to be dynamic in embracing the latest trends in the markets while listening to and addressing customer needs immediately.

To other entrepreneurs, Mr Waiganjo asks them to, “Tap the opportunities, follow their dreams and be passionate in all they do.”

For any investor who would wish to invest in the industry, Irungu advises that “One should start by conducting research, checking out any existing similar business, the level of competition, their target business and on the charges. At the same time, one should assess from the findings what one can offer to his target market,”

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