In the 90s, a palatial home built by one of Kisii’s wealthy families attracted lots of attention. The house is massive that it almost looked out of place in a small town. At that time, a handful of wealthy families owned such mansions that had huge balconies, lush gardens and more than six bedrooms.
As the rich homeowners grow older and their children leave the nest, some have been forced to lease out the mansions to hotel investors.
Dr George Linto and Dr Victor Moseti are a new crop of investors who are seeing potential in Kisii’s hotel industry. A few months ago, they rented a home owned by Mogambi Mogaka, an entrepreneur whose family has been in business for decades. Mr Mogaka who has since relocated to the US failed to get a buyer for his home that he was selling for Sh50 million.
The two doctors turned it into a hotel, complete with a luxurious room that goes for Sh20,000 a night. The garden is beautiful, they brought in a chef who had worked in top Nairobi restaurants, who whips up from Indian food to chicken wings as they taste in the city.
The hotel called La Serena located on Kisii-Migori Road has upped the décor game with tastefully furnished rooms.
“We know there is business potential in Kisii, that is why we have ventured into the hospitality industry,” said Dr Linto who also runs Care & Cure, a new health facility in Kisii.
A manager at the hotel, Cyprian Maranga, says business is picking up since they opened doors about a month ago.
“We are targeting mostly business travellers and tourists but this does not mean that we do not welcome all clients. We want to exploit untapped opportunities,” said Mr Maranga, adding that besides unique foods they have a greenhouse where they grow their own vegetables. They also rear chicken.
The hotel investors are betting on the upgrade of Kisii-Isibania highway that will see the hotel placed at the heart of a dual carriage. “Tourists going to and from Tanzania will be making a stopover here,” said Mr Maranga.
With devolution, exposure and increase in disposable income, investors are betting on areas previously seen as remote. Another breathtaking hotel that has come up in Kisii is Kamel Park.
The hotel that has a helipad is owned by serial entrepreneur Haron Kamau. He is one of the shareholders of Transline public transport company with has 40 buses and 70 matatus plying the Nairobi-Kisii route.
I met the 47-year-old at his hotel that he has invested millions of shillings. Nothing screams of his wealth at a glance.
“Transport business has a good turnover and it has enabled me get funds for this hotel,” said the laid-back Mr Kamau.
Besides public transport and a hotel, Mr Kamau grows maize on large scale and rears livestock in Nakuru. He also had petrol stations in Kisumu and ran a restaurant in Nakuru, which he closed to focus on his new enterprise.
“The fuel business in Kisumu was also a good venture, but I do not want to juggle so many balls, I want to give Kamel Park my best,” he said.
The businessman is hands-on that at his hotel and the buses’ booking office, he is one of the workers tasked to ensure smooth operations.
The hotel that sits on five acres near Nyanguru hills shows the growth of Kisii’s hotel industry. There are others that have come up recently such as Dados and Hotel Nyakoe.
“The idea of venturing into hospitality business came when I visited China and Dubai. After several visits, I made up my mind to have a similar hotel back home,” Mr Kamau said, adding that public transport is very demanding and he hopes the hotel business will be less challenging.
He says he borrowed the architectural designs from Dubai and China and personally supervised the construction.
The hotel’s architect Joshua Asati says together with Mr Kamau, they designed Kamel Park in 2015.
The 29-year-old architect says the inspiration was to create a landmark in the outskirts of the town where people could play, interact, relax as well as experience the beautiful scenery.
“Mr Kamau had a very clear vision of what he wanted, this made our job easier,” said Mr Asati, who has designed over 70 buildings.
To cut down costs, they used locally available materials like offcuts from cypress trees to make a beautiful ceiling.
Mr Asati who works in a family business, Oasis Architect, says there is change in taste among new generation developers and homeowners in Kisii, thanks to Internet exposure and diaspora investors.
“Clients have a general desire to borrow ideas from other parts of the country where they have lived in or visited,” says Mr Asati.
The hotel is one of the few in the region with a helipad which Mr Kamau said will woo high-flying guests who prefer to take to the skies in their own planes or chartered one.
“In Kisii, a landing site is a challenge hence many hotels end up not hosting people with helicopters. This helipad accommodates two helicopters,” said Mr Kamau.
So far, he said, two helicopters have used the helipad since the hotel opened six months ago.
They also incorporated artificial features like caves, cliffs and waterfalls, elevating the ambience.
“I loved this site because it is deep in the village, away from the town hassles. Kisii is growing fast and in a few years, the Central Business District may have expanded to where his hotel sits,” Mr Kamau said, adding that he is confident that he will get value for his money with time.