Since it was established in 1944, when the local chiefs taxed traders between five and ten cents for its construction, the town has grown tremendously owing to its location on the busy Kisumu-Busia road.
Ugunja, which is currently one of Siaya County’s key commercial hubs, boasts of most businesses taking place along the tarmac road. Traders here operate throughout the night, targeting truck drivers and passengers heading to the border town of Busia.
Since the inception of the devolved government in 2013, the socio-economic needs of the area have increased as the population grows. With the emerging number of retail shops, supermarkets and residential homes, Ugunja has fallen off the radar of must-visit places in Siaya County’s hospitality industry.
But two weeks ago, Ugunja town, which is one of Siaya County’s centres earmarked for an upgrade alongside Bondo, Ukwala, Yala and Usenge got a new lease of life with the opening of a new resort and conference centre - The Mojoh Inn.
Situated about 200 metres from Ugunja town, the resort sits on about two acres. It boasts of high-end conferencing facilities, a restaurant, bar and a rooftop lounge. The proprietor, Eve Godia, says that for those who want a luxury hideaway in a tranquil environment; this is the place to be.
The hotel with home-like hospitality is not only offering luxury but also promotes healthy eating. But running a hotel in this facility was not Godia’s initial plan. She said that having a mansion in the countryside like many other Kenyans was her dream.
“But I changed my mind in order to have a place where people could come and enjoy themselves instead of having a home where I would only be there with family members,” she explains.
According to Godia, the hotel, which opened its doors a few weeks ago was established as an afterthought.
“Initially, I wanted to build a home but changed my mind. The premises’ proximity to the main highway birthed the idea of a hotel,” she explains.
Godia, who says the construction of the facility took her 17 years, noted that she also realised that there was a gap in the hospitality industry in the area and decided to do something different.
“In our world where so many people believe that the city offers a better opportunity. We wanted to change the narrative in our own small way. And therefore, we stayed home and dared to dream,” Godia said.
“I took the risk in a community where people fear taking loans to fund business ventures. I look back and it should be an inspiration to the youth that nothing comes easy. It is handwork, patience, resilience and discipline especially when it comes to paying debts,” Godia said.
And gradually, Godia said, she started to shape the premises, through her other landscaping and building skills.
“Being an entrepreneur, I only continued with the construction works when resources were available. This is the reason it took longer to complete the building. There are a few things that I am still trying to put in place in order to fully complete it,” she says.
She adds that turning the building from a residential home to a hotel came with its own costs such as changing the architectural design among others.
With the hotel majoring in luxury and healthy eating, Godia says she sources her food locally. “Even though the cost of food has gone up, we still manage to get vegetables, fish and meat locally,” she adds.
With its doors opening weeks before the Christmas festivities, Godia says the idea is to cash on a niche market that has a high taste. “My idea was to have a taste of culture and an experience of luxury that is pocket friendly,” says Godia.
The entrepreneur added that her love for cooking and interior designing also pushed her to the business.
“I thought I should have a place to showcase my skills in cooking. At the hotel, we also have “Eve’s Kitchen,” she says, adding that the hotel’s signature dish is “Aliya” - smoked or sun-dried beef stew that is a speciality of the Luo community. It takes about three to four days to dry completely. The meat would then be cooked and consumed, at a later date.
With an ambience which fosters relaxation and peace of mind, with well-maintained lawns and clean surroundings, The Mojoh Inn is a perfect getaway from the daily grind of officialdom to relax.
For those seeking accommodation, the hotel offers comfortable and affordable rooms. Even though the proprietor is still new in the industry, the greatest challenge lies in the number of licenses that one has to get to operate.
“Operating licenses are just too many and this makes most of the businessmen shy away from venturing into the hotel industry,” she says.
Another challenge she cited was the lack of a classification of the hotels in the county. This, she noted, has not enabled the investors to fully tap into the industry’s potential.
“We are aware that this has not happened but we have embarked on this exercise to ensure that the hotels are classified. This will help in giving value to the investments,” said Siaya County Executive for Tourism Ms Anjeline Atieno.
She said the department is partnering with stakeholders to develop a roadmap to drive tourism as a business.