Safari Rally fuels Naivasha's new business boom

Carl Tundo and Tim Jessop

Kenyan rally driver Carl Tundo (right) and his co-driver Tim Jessop. PHOTO | MACHARIA MWANGI | NMG

Hotels in Naivasha are fully booked as hundreds of guests arrive for today’s World Rally Championship (WRC) that the State expects will inject Sh6 billion into the economy.

Organisers say at least 10,000 people from all over the world are expected to attend, highlighting the impact of the iconic event that returns today after 19 years of absence.

Hyriss Hotel general manager Geoffrey Mariga said all its 65 rooms were booked. The hotel has also hired additional workers to cope with the increase in guests.

A senior manager at Viewers Park Hotel, Ms Mary Rahab, said they had run out of rooms even as booking enquiries streamed in.

“This the best it can ever get. I don’t think there is anyone in the sector complaining about lack of business,” she said.

Safari Rally, which will feature 19 competitive stages will take place in the scenic town after it was restored to the WRC calendar following lobbying led by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“It is an iconic event that will market Kenya, with a global audience being treated to quality production and 155 television stations beaming the event live,” WRC Safari Rally chief executive officer Phineas Kimathi said.

The event traditionally used to come around Easter holiday celebrations.

The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage says the Sh6 billion projection is based on the expectation that the event, which will take place from today to Sunday, will attract thousands of fans and millions of viewers across the world.

“It is estimated that this event will have a direct injection of approximately Sh6 billion in the form of foreign currency into the country,” said the ministry, without giving a breakdown.

“The Safari Rally is at the heart of our national heritage ---the profile of this event identifies Kenya’s capacity as a top tourist destination.”

The ministry says the event will converge more than 825 million viewers and online games participants on Safari play station and television station.

“We also expect to attract more than 1.5 billion online impressions making this event truly unique,” said the ministry.

The event comes as a major boost to Kenya’s tourism sector that is reeling from Covid-19 disruption that has seen a sharp decline in international visitors as countries retain tough cross-border restrictions.

Kenya’s tourism earnings grew by 3.9 percent to Sh163.6 billion in 2019 as arrivals remained above the two-million mark. Last year’s figures are yet to be made public.

Some of the brands of cars that will be used in the competition include Toyota, Hyundai, Ford, Volkswagen, Skoda, Mitsubishi and Subaru.

Top global car manufacturers, drivers, rally navigators and technical personnel top the list of the people that will be in the country for the showpiece.

Some 58 drivers, including 34 Kenyans, have been confirmed for the event with the most prominent being Sébastien Ogier who has claimed seven WRC titles in the last eight seasons.

The Kenyan trio—Onkar Rai, Carl Tundo and Tejeer Rai— will line up in Volkswagen Polo GTIs.

Mr Tundo is the most experienced of all the local drivers having won the non-WRC Safari Rally on five occasions (2004, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018).

In 2009, Mr Tundo was crowned Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) champion, making him the first Kenyan winner of an IRC round.

Safari Rally had been dropped from the International Motorsports Federation (FIA) World Rally Championship from 2003.