This Article has been written by Daniel Benson. Daniel is from London, United Kingdom. He enjoys reading, writing and listening to music. An aspiring journalist and currently a student, Daniel was really interested in volunteering for the Association of African Entrepreneurs to research and write an article, as it is helping draw attention to the wonderful spirited people he interviewed, and also expanding his portfolio of work.
‘Kenya is one of the world’s great tourism destinations’ says the national tourism board, ‘known for its remarkable diversity of landscapes, wildlife and cultures. From sweeping savannahs to tropical beaches and coral reef, dense equatorial forests to mighty snow capped mountains and more, Kenya is a world unto itself’ it continues . Kenya routinely attracts over a million annual tourists from the wealthy Western countries, which contribute over 73 billion Kenyan shillings to the economy, representing 8.4% of the annual Kenyan revenue. However in the past decade, tourist numbers have struggled and a regeneration of Kenya’s tourist industry has been undertaken, with many entrepreneurs founding successful homestays for the more culturally curious modern tourist.
The Industry of Tourism in Kenya
Kenya was one of the first African countries to develop a tourist industry, with tourism today representing Kenya’s second largest source of foreign exchange, following agriculture. When Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, the government decided to invest heavily into tourism, in a bid to generate income for the country, to enable it to develop, through the ability to fund improvements to socio-economic conditions in the country. The new government established national parks, of which today there are nineteen, and invested heavily into beach resorts, most notably Mombasa. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, Kenya was the most visited African nation by foreign visitors. By 2000, Kenya was receiving in excess of one million annual tourists, with this generating over $250 million.
However, since the turn of the millennia, tourist numbers in the country have fallen, due to political issues in Kenya, coupled with the volatility of the tourist industry. A terrorist attack in the Kenyan Capital Nairobi, 1998, killed 212 people and saw western governments discouraging its citizens from visiting. Consequently, tourists went to neighbouring Tanzania or South Africa instead; tourist numbers were never regained from these competitors. In December 2007, amid civil unrest at the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, 1,200 people died at the hands of rioting and violence, provoking further tourist decline. Tourist revenue was down 54% in the first quarter of 2008, compared to the year before.
Despite these recent dramatic falls in tourist numbers visiting Kenya, there are bold individuals bucking the trends and using entrepreneurial initiative to cash in on the contemporary, fashionable cultural tourism, by opening up their homes to paying guests, in the form of homestays.
Kenya ranks consistently high in numbers of homestays available on websites that display worldwide databases of such accommodation; homestaybooking.com, a part of the world leader in booking accommodation: booking.com, features 460+ Kenyan homestays. This compares with three times more than tourist competitor South Africa. Similarly, on homestayweb.com, Kenya features sixth with 120 homestays, dwarfing all other African countries, as well as comparatively much larger tourist destinations: China, Spain and Ireland, which feature further down the list.
To complete my article, I enlisted the help of approximately a dozen Kenyan homestay owners, through the medium of e-mail. Residing in Britain, where common courtesy, such as replying to e-mails, is much to be desired, I was overwhelmed by the response I got. This diligence impressed me, as these businessmen and businesswomen had taken time out to e-mail me, with no obvious commercial gain to be derived in doing so. This infers to me that Kenyan homestays are the way forward for caring and going-the-extra-mile staff, perhaps this personal connection between customer and owner make homestays preferential to huge hotels.
One of my e-mail correspondents, Claudia, showed me her review page on tripadvisor.com. She has earnt the seventh highest position on the Nairobi Activity rankings, with no ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’ ratings, and 17 guests awarding her the highest score. Many of the reviews focus, not only on the facilities provided, but Claudia herself too. Claudia’s most recent review, from a Singaporean, makes reference to the impressive ‘speed of response and the customer orientated manners by Claudia’. From reading subsequent reviews I can see Claudia, of Cruzeiro Safaris, goes routinely above the port of call, to give her guests the best and most memorable trip possible. This behaviour makes such a positive impact on tourists and encourages the ‘return and referrals’ Claudia and her team hope for, making Claudia’s homestay more preferable to a larger, impersonal multi-storey transnational company’s hotel.
Case Study: Joyce
Joyce, 59, advertises her homestay online, alongside 337 others in the capital, Nairobi. For $20 US per night, visitors are entitled to breakfast, lunch and dinner; as well as laundry service. This is just 12% of the median price for a hotel in Nairobi, showing homestays to be a commercially viable option for both tourists after a culturally enriching experience and those on a budget. Joyce also offers Swahili lessons to her guests, to help them embrace the culture of where they are staying at a higher level, and perhaps to converse with locals in their native language.
Joyce tells me that she began renting rooms to earn extra income, but soon found that she had achieved more than just money, by meeting ‘new people from all over the world’ so as to ‘learn about other cultures and enrich my life’. She informs me how she has lost her former ‘tunnel vision’ and has become ‘more tolerant and more understanding’. A further benefit of Joyce’s homestay, in Muthangari, North West Nairobi, is that she is able to ‘get potential hosts’ where she could stay, and consequently, create a ‘global village through this exchange of visits’. This consequently enabled Joyce to later tour Spain staying at homestays, in the same way that people stay with her.
Case Study: Nancy and Caesar
Nancy, 35, and Caesar, 40, run the Rose Grove Homestay, in Nakuru, Kenya’s third biggest city and a base for tourists to visit the famous pink flamingos of Lake Nakuru National Park and the fantastic view from the edge of the Menengai Crater. They told me the motivation for the establishment of their homestay was to reduce the ‘cost of running’ their home, and as a more favourable alternative to downsizing. However they, similarly to Joyce, found many social and cultural benefits from this business too; Nancy described this as an ‘enjoyable and rewarding venture’, which has ‘made our [Nancy’s and Caesar’s] lives richer’. She continues: ‘The guests that troop into and out of our house add lots of variety and colour to our lives, and keep our home full of human noise, laughter and warmth. Each guest is different; some prefer quiet, some will share in your love for music or books, others will share with you with tales of their adventures until late into the night’. Yet, it is not just Nancy and Caesar who benefit, so do the guests, who get to experience day to day life with a real Kenyan family and appreciate differences in culture.
Researching and writing for the Association of African Entrepreneurs regarding Kenyan businessmen and women building, advertising and running their own hotels has been very eye-opening. I have seen the positive impact this has had on their lives, both economically, but also spiritually: meeting new people and understanding more of one another. This was unanimous through the entrepreneurs I spoke too, who were so willing to part with information to help me in my research. It shows how diligence and kindness do still have some prevalence in business! Kenyan home stays are a model that ought to be followed in other similar developing countries and help attract tourists and thus create more money for the government to improve and develop their countries.
 Based on the budget revenue of $7.375bn (2012) for Kenya: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ke.html
 de Blij, Harm. The World Today: Concepts and Regions in Geography 4th edition. Wiley Publishing: Hoboken, NJ