This past week I spent the entire week in Nairobi attending our annual Magical Kenya Expo where Kenya Tourism Board invites leading agents from around the world to Kenya to see first hand what Kenya has to offer.
This year’s event was a huge success with good quality buyers and the agents all had nothing but great memories of our country Kenya and they will not hesitate to redouble their efforts to keep selling Magical Kenya. I met a MICE expert from Singapore, hungry to sell Kenya since he has sold enough of South Africa and his clients want to see more of Africa .
Well that is as far as Good News goes.
On the other hand our host venue KICC and host City Nairobi sadly are letting us down.
It has been a long time since I attended a fair at our main convention centre in Kenya.
I am afraid to tell you that the state of KICC which is meant to be pulling in world class events is nothing but a pale shadow of its former self. In the process they have starved off hotels in the CBD who would have benefited greatly from the delegates at this centre. The fact that CBD traffic is heavy is not helping matters hence KICC is meant to be the lifeline for the likes of Hilton, The Stanley, intercontinental.. etc.
The Kenyatta International Conference Centre – KICC was commissioned by our founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta the 1st President of the Republic of Kenya, in 1967. He did not cut corners, he went for quality.
It was designed by a Norwegian architect Karl Henrik Nøstvik and the construction was carried out by contractors Solel Boneh & Facta.
This was done in three phases.
Phase I was the construction of the podium.
Phase II consisted of the main tower
and Phase III involved the Plenary.
Construction was completed in 1973, with the opening ceremony occurring in September 1973 presided over by President Jomo Kenyatta.
Folks setting up such a great facility – 28 floors and huge space for meetings that can accommodate 5000 delegates way back in 1967 is driven by sheer passion and VISION. The lack of maintenance over the years and lukewarm support by the exchequer meant that the place is simply not able to maintain standards and the results is all to see from broken tiles to pot holed car park, broken toilets, non functioning water fountain to dangerous makeshift steps among-st many others which are tell tale signs of neglect which makes this facility a shame in the heart of our city.
On the other hand the City itself is not doing any better, the City has also not been spared the neglect by the city fathers who have decided to focus more on internal fights rather than fix the city where 60% of Kenya’s economy is based.
What an irony that these two facilities face each other while our National Assembly which is equally not short of drama looks on as a witness between the two and the Judiciary is a witness to it as well all as they share a wall.
KICC is meant to attract and pull in International Conventions that will in turn keep all the hotels in the CBD busy. With the current state of affairs at this centre, it is indeed a long shot to compete with other Centres and Cities Globally – hence even Kigali is now having our lunch while Ethiopia is preparing to eat our dinner.
While all this is happening, I could not fail to notice the never say die Spirit of the Kenyan entrepreneurs. I counted No less than 10 new world class restaurants in the CBD while hotels like – The evergreen, The Stanley a Heritage Hotel by Sarova Hotels have maintained its 5 star status including a new 4th floor spanking brand new VIP lounge aptly named 1902 Club deriving its name from when the hotel was set up. Keep in mind they also have the classy Exchange bar on the 1st floor where Kenya’s 1st stock exchange was traded . Well Done Jimmy Kariuki and Sarova Kenya Team.
I could also not fail to notice Nairobi-ans support for all this new restaurants and pubs where the city remained alive till past 10pm even on a weekday despite all the challenges they face. Give it to Kenyans we are very hard working lot,only let down by the public sector.
We must speak. Silence on our part is not acceptable. What became of the once vibrant NCBDA??
All is not gloom though, I noticed that hawkers were not there around the CBD and the notorious street families were all gone save for one or two. Boda Bodas that were all over the place a few months ago are also gone.
While I point out issues it is also my nature to give a simple way forward.
Please we need a walking city. Please fix all those dangerous pot holes and pavement that can easily leave one badly hurt.
We should also have pavements that are level where you can easily pull your stroller to carry your stuff when going to the fair at KICC even as Kenyans and Nairobi residents need that. This is what happens in London or Johannesburg and most serious cities around the world where our MCA’s have visited on numerous occasions .
Governor Sonko ought to borrow a leaf from his friend our Mombasa Governor and fix the pavements.
Visitors will only spend money if they can get out of their hotel rooms. Please make it easy for them to spend money in our shops and restaurants . Allow them to pump in money into our economy . Allow them to put money in our pockets. In the absence of that they simply go back with their money which they had planned to spend in NAIROBI, but you refused to allow them. I recall respected Pastor T. D. Jakes who told us as much .
To matters KICC.
To My Bro CS Balala, we have had this debate for ages on the future of KICC. When Raphael Tuju then Minister Of Tourism stormed KICC to evict KANU we all believed that KICC was going to turn around but nothing much has happened. To make it worse the neglect of this iconic centre which is at an all time low and we can no longer wish it away.
Setting up the convention bureau is yet to happen while neighbours are moving and moving pretty fast. Setting up a bureau will also be pointless if the Infrastructure is not fixed and that should come first .
Let’s be honest with ourselves, Government is simply NOT able and trust me, NOT willing to do it.
KICC in the Scheme of things is not on the priority of issues facing Government of Kenya today.
It is high time private sector was allowed to take over KICC and let Government of Kenya remain a landlord. A serious private sector player will build a 5 star hotel with enough parking space ( tower ) at the convention hotel while the extra delegates will fill the hotels in the CBD.
Let me be clear I have NOT said sell, lease it out.
If a 1902 hotel, The Stanley can maintain its 5 star status it means age is nothing but it all has to do with working ethos and commitment.
Last year Cape Town attracted 56 International Conventions while Kigali attracted 23 and we could only attract 18 which should not be the case. They say talk is cheap. Can we now see serious tangible action.
I noticed that some work was going on to fix KICC but I am afraid this piece meal approach will not take us anywhere.
Cape Town Convention centre pumped in 1B Rand Ksh 8B hence they can attract serious conventions yet they are located further down in Africa while Nairobi has a God Given central location which we have REFUSED to exploit.
Attracting 800 delegates each week 3 weeks in a month in 11 months each spending on average $120 in a Nairobi hotels means Ksh 1.6B direct as hotel accommodation only excluding many other extras..
KICC scores 3/10 while Nairobi CBD scores 4/10 and my hotel you score 9/10. Well Done The Stanley. It’s clear what private sector can do and truth be said you and many other investors deserve better.
Well always I choose to remain an optimist. It’s about time we all spoke.
Mohammed Hersi, is the Chairman – Kenya Tourism Federation