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Tourism feels affects of security fears

Updated: 2015-04-24 09:11
By Philip Etyang in Nairobi (China Daily Africa)

But at least two Chinese hotels in Kenya say they remain optimistic about their prospects

As the terrorist attack on Garissa University College, 370 kilometers northeast of Nairobi, continues to cast a pall over Kenya, some Chinese hotel owners in the country remain cautiously optimistic about their prospects and the country's tourism industry.

About 150 people died in the attack by the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militia group on April 2.

Tourism feels affects of security fears

An aerial view of Eastland Hotel in Nairobi. Philip Etyang / For China Daily

Tourism feels affects of security fears

Left: The entrance of the Eastland Hotel in Nairobi. Right: Drivers from Polaris Safari & Tours Ltd at the Eastland Hotel in Kilimani, Nairobi. Philip Etyang / For China Daily

"Obviously our business operations have been greatly hampered by insecurity in the country," says Hillary Siele, general manager of Nanchang Hotel in Nairobi. "However, our Chinese market has not been greatly affected by the insecurity."

Siele says many Chinese people believe Kenya will be able to recover from attacks coordinated by al -Shabaab.

"Our market has remained largely unchanged, and in fact we have a new sales manager to handle the vibrant Chinese account by strengthening existing clientele as well as expanding it."

The Kenya Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events/or Exhibitions Expo's impact on the Kenyan economy is expected to be felt much later, the hope being that it will inject billions of dollars into the ailing tourism industry.

Shadow Li, a tour operator from Beijing who is in charge of the Chinese market for Nanchang Hotel, expressed optimism about tourism operators bringing Chinese people into the country, despite the pressures they face because of fears over security and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

"For those who know Kenya, they will always want to visit tourist attractions despite any risks they may run," says Li, 24, who is from Wuhan, Hubei province and has worked in Kenya for more than five years.

However, Troy Yue, general manager of the Eastland Hotel in Kilimani, a suburb of Nairobi, says business has been slow since the Garissa attack.

"Chinese guests are still coming to Kenya and in particular the Eastland Hotel. However, the numbers have fallen slightly because of security concerns. The government should do all it can to improve that."

A report by BMI Research forecasts that revenue in Kenya's hotel and restaurant industry will shrink by 10 percent between now and 2019.

Despite its gloomy view of Kenya's tourism prospects, it acknowledges the country's diverse tourist attractions and the fact that the government is doing a lot to promote the multibillion dollar industry.

"With the government also actively supporting the tourism industry, it has the potential to attract a large number of inbound arrivals. As a result, the country is a higher-risk proposition for tourism investment than a number of other countries in the region."

The government has been promoting business tourism by hosting international conferences. The expo held at the Kenyatta International Convention Center in Nairobi in January was the biggest international conference held in the country so far this year.

Be that as it may, the hotel's managers are taking nothing for granted, and plans to expand its operations into other counties in Kenya are on hold, Siele says.

"We had planned to buy two existing properties by July so as to present Chinese tourists with a complete package when they visit Kenya. However, with the recent insecurity concerns, our plans are on hold as we monitor the situation.

In Nairobi, the Kenyan government is building what is being billed as the biggest conference center on the continent.

"Over 21,000 local and international delegates are expected to attend conferences in Kenya over 2015, with the 10th annual World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference due to be held in December, alongside other major events including the World Conference on Public Relations Forum," the BMI Research report says.

"In total, the government expects to generate 8 billion Kenyan shillings ($85 million) from business travel throughout the year and hopes to increase this further in the future."

Many Chinese hotels, food outlets and restaurants have opened in Kenya over the past five years.

One of those is the Eastland Hotel, about five kilometers from downtown Nairobi. Yue, a Chinese national who has been in the country for five years, says he previously worked with a construction and engineering company, China Jiangxi International Kenya, for two years. After leaving the company he formed his own construction firm with a friend and completed more than 100 projects in Kenya.

"My son was born here in Nairobi, so he is Kenyan. I consider myself very much a Kenyan, too, even if I do not have a Kenyan passport."

Eastland Hotel revels in its international status as it maintains "the exquisite Chinese touch", he says. The four-star hotel has 185 rooms, ranging from standard to presidential suites.

"This is the biggest Chinese hotel in East and Central Africa," Yue says. "Most senior Chinese nationals in the country such as officials from the China Road and Bridge Corp and China Wu Yi stay here.

"Chinese business people come to Eastland Hotel to get connected with their Kenyan counterparts. The hotel acts as a contact point between China and Kenya."

The hotel also hosts many Chinese tourists through air ticketing agencies that organize tours and exhibitions for their guests, he says.

Nanchang Hotel is closer to the city, rubbing shoulders with the economic hub of the capital. It opened in September 2012 and is patronized mainly by Chinese, Siele says.

"The hotel was built by Indian engineers up to the first floor then Nanchang Foreign Engineering Co Kenya Ltd took over and built it to the eighth floor. So I can confidently say the Chinese built it."

Nanchang Foreign Engineering Company Kenya Ltd, part of Nanchang Foreign Engineering, whose headquarters are in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, was the main financier.

Nanchang Hotel mainly hires local workers, he says, and the management is committed to a program of corporate responsibility.

"We work with a children's home to which we donate clothing and food. We also employ non-skilled labor from around the area. We teach our local staff Chinese culture and language here at the hotel. It is a continuous process that helps them better relate to our guests.

"For a Chinese hotel with a Chinese name we are doing well. We have local, Indian, Chinese and continental kitchens that offer many cuisines," he says, adding that most of the guests are regulars.

However, goodwill in Nairobi toward Chinese restaurants is not always readily on tap. Nairobi City County recently forced an establishment in Kilimani called Chongqing Restaurant to close after allegations that after 5pm it was barring Africans from entering.

On March 23 the website nairobi.co.ke reported that the owner, Esther Zhao Yang, had been arrested and charged with operating the restaurant without a proper license. The Nairobi newspaper, The Daily Nation, quoted the restaurant's "relations manager", Zhao, as saying the ban had been imposed for security reasons.

The case against Zhang has been set down for hearing on June 8.

However, Siele says the storm of publicity surrounding Chongqing Restaurant has not affected the Nanchang Hotel.

"In fact we are booked out at the moment, because we are hosting African Union officials from West Africa. Whenever they are in Nairobi they stay here. We offer authentic Chinese cuisine and do not alter the menu to attract customers as other restaurants in Nairobi do."

For China Daily

( China Daily Africa Weekly 04/24/2015 page20)

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