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Nyeri hoteliers face lean times as iconic White Rhino faces auction

By Ndungu Gachane | May 18th 2022 | 3 min read
By Ndungu Gachane | May 18th 2022
The White Rhino hotel in Nyeri [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The woes of Nyeri tourists’ establishments continued to pile after the iconic White Rhino hotel was put up for auction.

White Rhino, a one-time exclusive joint for whites and lately for the rich, is set to be auctioned next month, according to an advertisement placed in a local daily.

The advert also says the hotel owes the county government Sh1.2 million as at July last year in accumulated ground rent of Sh146,000 annually.

Sources said the White Rhino was worth almost Sh1 billion.

However, it’s difficult to find out how much the establishment owes it’s banker, the KCB.

According to knowledgeable sources in the Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit, tourist class establishments in Nyeri, though hard hit by Covid-19 lockdowns in the last two years, had also been a victim of devolution.

Surrounding towns

“As Nyeri lost it’s status as Central Province Headquarters, the other four counties kept their business within themselves even as government department downscaled provincial representation and corporates opened offices in the surrounding towns of Meru and Isiolo affecting our establishments,” said hotelier Charles Karuga, who once sat in the circuit governing council.

The hotel within Nyeri town centre becomes the third tourist establishment to face financial woes in recent days following the shutting down of the historic Tree Tops and its sister The Outspan in October last year due to the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

The Tree Tops on the edge of the Aberdare National Park gained its fame for welcoming Princess Elizabeth who became queen of Elizabeth on her visit to Kenya in 1952 when her father George VI died in London.

It attracted international attention but its fame and virility went down the drain thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Within its extensive rush compound, the Outspan houses the Paxtu, the retirement home of Scouts Movement founder Lord Baden Powell who died in 1941 having lived there since 1938. It is a history that has made the Outspan one of the most popular destinations of the scouts' movement.

Months of closure

It was put for sale in October last year for Sh550 million after months of closure.

Like the Outspan, White Rhino which has been a hub of conference facilities and team building activities for corporates and organised groups.

The iconic hotel was founded in 1910 by three Europeans Berkely Cole, Lord Cranworth and Sandy Herd. They named the hotel after a rhino, which was shot at the area during one of the numerous game-hunts conducted by the white settlers.

It was well-known across the region as the first segregated exclusive pub for whites in an area of Nyeri which was out of bounds for Africans during the colonial era. In 1965 after independence, the hotel was sold off to an Asian businessman when it had only 27 rooms - most of which were not self-contained - at the time.

The hotel offered mainly single rooms and lodging facilities and a bar and restaurant for guests.

The bar section was then converted into a seminar hall and the hotel began to allow in the first African patrons.

Five years later in 1970, the hotel was sold again. It was at this point that the “whites-only” sign, which had been put at the entrance, was removed, ushering in a new era for the hotel.

The White Rhino Hotel was gazetted as a National Heritage site on March 9, 2001.

Auctioneers notice

The auctioneers notice indicates that the title is a leasehold interest for a term of 50 years with effect from September 1, 2008 with a revisable annual ground rent of Sh146,000.

“The land rates were in arrears of Sh1.2 million as at July 10 last year. Bidders will be required to produce a bidding of Sh10 million by way of cash or bankers cheque to be allowed to bid,” says the advert on the property.

White Rhino sits on a three-acre plot opposite the Nyeri Sports Club sharing a tarred road leading to Green Hills Hotel, another famous Nyeri tourist establishment that has suffered intermittent closures since Covid-19 eruption in early 2020.

The Green Hills Hotel, associated with Kenya’s third President the late Mwai Kibaki, closed its operations in March 2021.

Another Nyeri tourist hotel facing headwinds is the Serena Mountain Lounge, on Chaka Road in Nyeri, which shut down in March last year known for its forest adventures.

It opened its doors in 1970 and attracted mainly conference tourists and team building expeditions.

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