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Nyeri’s iconic Outspan Hotel up for sale

By Lydiah Nyawira | October 7th 2021
Lord Baden - Powell Grandson, left, the present Lord Baden Powell is pictured in front of Paxtu - B-Ps cottage in the grounds of the Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, now maintained as B-P memorial in 1977 [Courtesy]

The Iconic Outspan Hotel in Nyeri town is on sale. The 120-acre property known for its well-manicured lawns, colourful peacocks gliding around the compound, and colonial style architecture has been a mainstay of Nyeri Town since it was built in 1927.

The facility is also better known as the residential quarters of the Scouts Movement founder, Sir Baden Powel, whose cottage Paxtu has remained a pilgrimage site for scouts from around the world for decades.

The International Scouts Association board member Anthony Kitonga said yesterday the association was seriously considering the offer.

“We have serious interest in this venture because of the Paxtu and its significance in the scout movement, and would be keen to preserve the historical hotel. The board will be meeting to discuss the same,” Mr Kitonga said.

Paxtu is, however, already a gazetted national monument.

The “For Sale” brochure published on the hotel by property management firm Knight Frank transpires that the high end establishment is seeking offers in the region of Sh550 million.

“The hotel, which is owned by Aberdare Safari Hotels (ASH), is also keen to engage equity investors,” Knight Frank team noted in the brochure.

The hotel is a sister establishment to the famous Ark and The Treetops in the Aberdare National Park, which are even more entwined with Nyeri’s colonial history.

The Outspan has a country feel and approximately 20 acres of well-maintained landscaped gardens and views of Mount Kenya.

A notice at the entrance of the hotel directs visitors to contact the operations manager or the finance manager on email. “On behalf of Aberdare Safari Hotels (ASH) we wish to notify you that the Outspan Hotel and Treetops Lodge will remain closed effective April 12, 2020, until further notice,” the poster reads.

Sentimental and historical significance of the hotel is one of the reasons locals are apprehensive and also optimistic about the news of the sale. Hotelier and Nyeri businessman Charles Karuga said the Covid-19 pandemic complicated the situation for the hospitality industry, and it was therefore not a surprise that The Outspan was being sold.

“It is not a surprise, but we should not be very worried because it is only changing ownership, and not moving out of Nyeri, changing its core business,” he said.

He added that the well-established hospitality chains had experienced a massive shift in business and that this was indicative of the situation in the industry.

Karuga said he was optimistic that once the facility changes hands, and the new investors inject money into the business towards modernising it, it would thrive.

“The tourism sector has changed drastically for the last decade, and unfortunately The Outspan may not have changed with it, which is why it is finding itself in such a predicament,” he observed.

The changes, Karuga noted, are the efforts by the tourism industry towards encouraging meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, what is referred to as MICE, as opposed to holidaying tourism.

He said The Outspan did not tap into the MICE market, and that it had insufficient conferencing facilities. Most large meetings and conferences were channeled to other hotels nearby, he said.

However, Karuga said he was optimistic that the hotel would benefit from fresh ideas, and the asking price of Sh550 million was a great bargain, considering the goodwill, The Outspan name, location, and facilities that were valuable. “I would expect that in less than three months that hotel will be off the market, having found a suitable buyer,” he said.

Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit chairperson Edward Wangechi said the fall of The Outspan Hotel was a big blow to the industry, but also a sign of the difficult situations most hotels were facing. “It is not a surprise because The Outspan, like many other hotels with established names, have been experiencing losses, and the pandemic made it worse,” he said.

He said new and old hotels were facing tough economic times because of increased taxation.

According to Mr Wangechi, the cost of doing business goes up as food, drinks, transport and labour increase. The ripple effect of the closure, he said, will be devastating to the people who rely on the business.

“We have managers, staff and suppliers who are affected when the hotels are closed down or sold, and we cannot ignore the fact that most are hanging on by a thread,” he stated.

Wangechi called on the government to relax Covid-19 restrictions for the hospitality industry like they did for the matatu sector.

“The hoteliers have been using diplomatic means to address their concerns and that is why it is being ignored. If things don’t change, bigger hotel chains will face the same fate,” he said.

The hotel has always been associated with the family of former Tetu MP Joseph Gethenji, who died in 1997. A Kenyatta era government technocrat, Gethenji was father to, among others, Ndung’u Gethenji, who was Tetu MP between 2013 and 2017. He was better known as chairman of the National Assembly Defence Committee.

The family’s matriarch Hilda Wangari died in September of 2020. Mr Ndung’u did not pick calls yesterday.

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