The tourism and hospitality sector in Nyeri County has been hit by a series of losses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Iconic and established hotels have shut down and are yet to resume operations, a glimpse into the bleak future for the hoteliers in the Mount Kenya tourism circuit.
With historical hotels such as the White Rhino, facing auction, and the historic Tree Tops and its sister The Outspan Hotel shutting down and going up for sale last October, smaller establishments are attempting to fill this gap left behind.
One of these establishments is the Msituni White Rock - located in Chaka, 500 metres off the Nyeri-Nanyuki Highway.
The facility has been in existence since 2009 but has been a low-key off-the-road hotel until Susan Murage and Eric Charlie took on the challenge to modernise and renovate parts of the establishment.
Sitting on three acres of land in a forest area, the location comprises a few wooden cabins and halls alongside several secluded sitting areas under trees.
“This hotel belonged to my father. He loved nature and wanted a place where people would socialise and meet in natural surroundings,” Ms Murage said.
The family business is now run by Ms Murage and Charlie, who decided to consider pulling in a younger clientele by setting up the modern Msituni Bar section.
“We want to attract clients of all ages, especially youth and families who can come to enjoy the natural surroundings and various activities,” she said.
She explained that the two entrepreneurs took over the operations of the hotel during the Covid-19 lockdown. They started renovating the place.
The duo started renovations during the lockdown and in December 2021, they considered holding New Year’s Party after receiving enquiries on party plans for the celebrations.
“People wanted to have outdoor plans for New Year celebrations and most establishments were closed down due to Covid-19, so we decided to throw a party and the response was amazing,” she said.
This gave the team the impetus to launch their plans to modernise the hotel, with a new and exotic drink and food menu which included snacks such as tacos, and a variety of cocktails.
“The hotel had an older clientele who wanted quiet and slow entertainment, and we wanted to offer a more youthful entertainment option for those looking for concert venues, and live Dj music,” she said.
This led to the renovations of a section of the hotel by setting up a more rustic style setup that involved pallet furniture.
The Msituni White Rock clubhouse wing was set up with comfortable colourful patterned cushions on pallet furniture seats and benches offering a rustic vibe that is often upcycled.
To appeal to new clients, the facility has theme nights and board games which allow for bonding and entertainment.
“We have also started holding pre-season football game activities where clients form teams and win prizes such as crates of beer for their team,” Charlie said.
Msituni Manager Michael Juma Muthoka, who has 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry, said the facility had created a niche as an alternative entertainment spot for younger revellers who want privacy and enjoy nature.
One of the untapped opportunities that Msituni hoteliers are looking to tap into are clients on transit to Northern Frontier counties such as Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, and Marsabit.
“Many tourists who are heading to the northern counties often cannot make the trip in a day and need to make stopovers from Nairobi. We want to tap into this market so they can stop by for lunch here,” he said.
Ms Murage said the industry requires cash capital to maintain due to the cost of overheads such as staff and utilities.
She said the marketing expense is also high as they use social media, and promotions to attract clients.
“Because of our location, we rarely have walk-in clients, so we have to be innovative to attract clients by holding events and other promotions to attract their attention,” she said.
The clash of generations in terms of new and old clientele has been balanced out as they both enjoy the ambience and variety of entertainment.
So far, plans are underway to hold concerts in September with high-octane artists such as Mejja and Nyashinski who can pull large crowds.
“We are planning to have an Amapiano concert, blankets and wine-style events in September as the weather warms up. With our lush green grounds, we can have crowds of people here to enjoy music and spend money on drinks and food,” she said.