Who should buy Treetops and Outspan hotels ?

The Treetops Hotel in the Aberdares National Park. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The Treetops Hotel and its subsidiary, Outspan Hotel in the Aberdare National Park, Nyeri with all their elegance and history are up for sale. It’s a testimony to how destructive Covid-19 has been to our lives and the economy.

This pandemic respects no one.

It seems more destructive than even wars. The Queen of England ascended to the throne while visiting Kenya in 1952, at Treetops Hotel. Sagana Lodge, now a State Lodge was her home.

It was her wedding present from the government of Kenya. This shows the soft spot Kenya held in the British Empire.

The calibre of some settlers in titles and where they schooled left no doubt, they were no ordinary Britons. Remember Colonels, generals and Oxbridge?

Her visit at the onset of Mau Mau with the State of Emergency declared eight months later was instructive. Was that a coded message to freedom fighters?

Did that visit further demonstrate the special place Kenya held in the British Empire?

One elderly man narrated to me how they swept streets during her visit but never saw her! The Queen was back in Kenya in 1983.

Our high school sent a busload of students to wave the Union Jack and Kenya flag as she bade us goodbye. I had a chance to visit the airport for the first time.

It took me another 18 years to take my first flight. That 1952 visit holds a special place in the monarchy’s history. It’s an event we have not leveraged on in marketing this country, particularly after Brexit, just like Obama’s connection to Kenya. Our history is a marketing and tourism jewel; it can’t be copied. To leverage our history further, we need to deconstruct the myth that Kenya was only settled by the British.

They held power but had other nationalities enjoying our hospitality. They still do. We had South Africans (Boers), Norwegians, Germans, Czechs, Jews, Germans, Danes, Americans, Australians, French among others. Would the descendants of these settlers not be excited by the Kenyan connection? How much effort do we put to reach these progenies?

Enough digression. Who should buy this hotel or inject cash into it? The quoted price of Sh550 million is low if you factor in history, location and the future of this country, which I have a lot of faith in.

If you think of the envisaged Kenyan population by 2050, about 92 million the market for such a facility is guaranteed. Covid-19 is not here forever. There is no shortage of buyers. Sh550 million is not a lot of money, particularly if you open up to foreign investors.

Various types of buyers are likely to emerge. The first is the hardnosed entrepreneurs. They could buy it and sell it off in parts including subdividing the land. All they want is money. They could even tear down the hotel.

It’s not the first time that has happened. We do not have a lot of respect for historical buildings. This type of buyer keeps me awake at night and hope he or she will not succeed. The second is the sentimental buyer, more interested in pride, history and preservation. I prefer this type of buyer.

The best buyer or investor in this category should be the Queen of England. That would be the perfect gift for her 100 birthday.

In the next five years, the hotel would be spruced up for that anniversary. It would not be the only British property in Kenya.

There could be other potential buyers, I suspect oil sheikhs from the Middle East or newly minted billionaires from China. Who would not like to own such a prime property on the equator overlooking the snow-peaked Mt Kenya? Who would hate to own such a “backwater” resting place?

The hotel, for preservation purposes, should be bought by someone who “money is not a problem.” Local or global hotel chains would love to add another feather on their cap if they see beyond Covid-19. Watch this category.

The other category is local investors. They can form a special purpose vehicle and buy the hotel with the rider that they will preserve it. Where is the National Museum of Kenya? Are these hotels listed?

The Scouts movement would be interested too with Paxtu Museum in mind. If I had money, I would have snapped that hotel in the morning, I see great potential beyond the Covid-19. After selling “water” and warmth (Mombasa and Naivasha), it’s time to sell cold and mountains.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the closure of Treetops and Outspan as well as other renowned hotels in Kenya. That includes Boulevard, Intercontinental, Laico Regency Norfolk and Mayfair. It’s a high price to pay for closing the economy owing to the pandemic. The government should form an economic commission to investigate how we handled this pandemic and derive lessons thereof.

That lesson will be useful for future pandemics or similar crises. If you think of the supply chains that were connected to these hotels, the cost to the economy becomes clear.

And why can’t these hotels be turned into student’s hotels which are doing very well? Is Qwetu not expanding? Covid-19 may lead to flexible hotel designs so that in future they can be converted into something else like office blocks. One great lesson from Covid-19 is that we should inbuilt flexibility in our lives.

The truth is that the pandemic will one-day end. We should not get desperate. Let’s be patient. Unfortunately, there will be losers and gainers.

Our well of optimism must never run dry. Whoever buys this hotel, please! preserve it. Money is not everything.