How Nairobi accommodates foreign delegates

Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi 
The just-concluded 14th Session of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been hailed as a major boost to Kenya’s hospitality industry, with capital Nairobi benefiting the most. Reports indicate that the conference was attended by 7,000 delegates.

And Nairobi is not done with major international conferences just yet. Next month, it will host 5,000 delegates attending the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) to be held in an African country.

Not long ago, the city hosted the World Trade Organisation attended by 7,000 delegates. This is not to mention the high-profile delegations that have recently accompanied foreign heads of state such US President Barack Obama, South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye and more recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But have you ever asked yourself where all these foreigners disappear to when night falls? Home & Away sought to find out the state of accommodation in Nairobi with more high-level meetings in the offing.

Capacity

To a casual observer, the city seems to have few accommodation facilities that can host such high-level delegations. However, this is not the case, at least not according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

According to Yvonne Wamalwa, a director of foreign service at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Nairobi’s current accommodation facilities can host at least 15,000 foreign delegates at one go. “Most of us think in terms of the big hotels that we see around. There are many guest houses and furnished apartments for those delegates who prefer some privacy. These range from bed-and-breakfast outfits that cost $80 (Sh8,000) to $1,570 (Sh157,000) for presidential suites,” she said.

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A recent report compiled by Jones Lang LaSalle Kenya, a financial and professional services firm that specialises in commercial real estate and investment management, says the continued focus of global hospitality brands entering the Kenyan market is informed by a reduction in security concerns in the country with a significant positive impact on demand for hotels in Nairobi.

Mike Macharia, Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers CEO says gone are the days city residents used to open their homes to visiting delegates due to inadequate facilities.

He says Nairobi has at least 25 top-of-the-range hotels and close to 300 small accommodation facilities that fit the bill of visiting delegates.

“You may not get 7,000 single beds in the top facilities but Nairobi has good quality small to medium hotels. The recent infrastructure upgrades, including the bypasses, mean developers can now put up hotels in the city’s periphery and still get to the conference venues on time,” he says.

Whenever a big conference is planned for Nairobi, it is upon Foreign Affairs Ministry to liaise with other government agencies to look into delegates’ accommodation, safety and comfort.

According to Wamalwa, it takes some legwork to comb every available hotel in the city, carefully scrutinising the suitability and determining the cadre of delegates who can be accommodated therein.

“During the recent UNCTAD conference, I visited more than 120 hotels across the city, checked their presidential suites for the few that have these and block-booked them,” she said.

Wamalwa added: “We have to visit these hotels incognito and see the security arrangements put in place. We have to know the easiest evacuation routes in case of emergencies. Then there is the health aspect where the Health Ministry checks the cleanliness of the entire facility. Nothing is left to chance,” she said.

Anne Murungi, sales and marketing director at the five-star Villa Rosa Kempinski, said Nairobi has come of age as far as accommodation and preferred lifestyles are concerned.

The hotel has played host to more than a dozen heads of state, including the three mentioned above.

Apart from Kempinski, other hospitality groups that have set shop in Nairobi recently include Carlson Rezidor through their flagship Radisson Blu Hotel in Upper Hill, Hemingways, and Dusit International. Among the older established brands are The Hilton, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Serena and Sarova Hotels.

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UNCTADUnited Nations Conference on Trade and DevelopmentWorld Trade Organisation