Elevation to city status poised to drive Nakuru tourism growth
On June 3, this year, the Kenyan senate officially endorsed Nakuru for city status.
What’s remaining is for the president to award a city charter for the official graduation of the town to city.
According to the senators, the town had met all legal threshold as provided for in the Urban Areas and Cities Act of 2019.
For instance, it is amongst the biggest commercial, as well as economic hubs in the country and amongst the top five contributors to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Moreover, sometime in the 90’s, Nakuru town was rated as the cleanest towns in East Africa and had investors and foreigners flocking the it for this reason.
According to a recent study by the UN-Habitat, Nakuru is the fasted growing town in East and Central Africa and it’s the fourth largest urban centre in Kenya after Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
The fact that it’s accessible and convenient to get to from any part of Rift Valley or the country, apart from Mombasa, makes it strategically located and favourable for investors, something that gives the county a great impetus for great socio-economic growth.
It is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country and the connecting point to most parts of the country.
“Once we get the charter from the president, the location moves from Category Two to Category One, which makes it attractive for meetings since allowances are higher in cities than in municipalities.
Most meeting organisers will choose Nakuru due to its centrality,” notes David Mwangi, chairman Nakuru County Tourism Association
Mwangi adds that as much as people think that Nakuru doesn’t deserve the title, Nakuru has many attractions, as well as titles that make it worthy of that title.
“Nakuru will be the only city in the world with a lake and a national park. In addition, it’s the most cosmopolitan city owned by anyone and everyone who settle here find it homely.
Also, the city will have numerous tourist attractions, such as lakes, museums, national parks, two largest calderas in Africa among others,” he says.
Naivasha, a large town in Nakuru county is also ranked number one non-capital investment destination in Africa, as well as the fourth investment destination in Africa after Dar es Salam, Kampala and Kigali.
It is this stature that has set the town apart, and fast track plans of setting up a dry port as a result of the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Phase Two, which covers Nairobi and Naivasha.
However, Mwangi notes that for the city to thrive, there is need to be supported particularly in marketing the destinations from the relevant authorities, such as the tourism boards. Proper infrastructure that leads to the tourist sites also need to be constructed.
“We also face over taxation by both the national and county governments and there is lack of specialisation in products.
When you hear about other top destinations in the world, you will identify them with one or two products, such as riding camels beside the pyramids in Cairo, Table Mountain hiking in Cape town, Taj Maha in Mumbai, cultural mix in Rio among others, but Nakuru doesn’t have that,” he notes.
Mwangi recommends that the government puts all efforts in marketing in order to attract investors just like other cities, such as Kigali, Marrakech and Cape Town.
They should also plan the city well since many people will invest, to eliminate slums and mixed dwellings. As for the traffic, the county is trying it’s best to eliminate the menace.
“With the dueling of Rironi-Nakuru-Mau summit road commencing this year, the perennial highway traffic challenge will be addressed.
However, there is need of a bypass in Nakuru to do away with long distance vehicles from passing through the Central Business District and is the major cause of traffic hold ups.
There is also need for a carefully planned waste management system so as to reduce the risk of polluting Lake Nakuru further,” he notes.
“The government should think of building an airport to attract foreign tourists and investors,” says Nicholas Kiritu National chairman Kenya Tour Driver Guides Association .
Forums to share views
Kiritu adds that the county needs to also build a good road network, good security and houses to be repainted.
“Tour operators in the region will also benefit from the elevation of the town’s status as more tourists will travel either for leisure, business or conferences and short day trips to the surrounding attractions,” he offers.
According to Elizabeth Njeri, the camp manager at Lake Elementaita, the main challenge affecting tourism in Nakuru is the lack of forums that enable industry players to air their views.
“Players need to share their views on matters, such as licenses, tariffs and tourism policies.
I am glad the county is already working with Nakuru County Tourism Association to ensure this is handled and we have seen some improvement,” she says.
She recommends that county officials not only market the tourist attractions, but also sample the unique attractions to boost their confidence while marketing.
Though infrastructure is the main challenge, Duncan Mwangi, the General Manager Sarova Hotels Woodlands feels that collaborations between the national government and the county government, have done much to improve this.
For instance, there is a proposed plan to have an airstrip in Lanet, which will mean that it will take 20 minutes to get to Nakuru.
“This is great because people from the East Africa region will be able to travel with ease and also head to their destination without having to go through Nairobi.
With the SGR too it will take an hour to get to Nakuru and this will make it easier for people coming for conferences, business or even travel,” he explains.
Duncan believes that Nakuru has the capacity to surpass Kisumu as a city and that it’s elevation to city status will open doors for government, non-governmental organisations and parastatals to have their meetings and conferences in the city, which will open up not just tourism, but other businesses.
Duncan adds that for now, most players in the hospitality industry, including his hotel, are focusing more on attracting local tourists.
For instance, the 8,200-seater Afraha stadium is being upgraded to international standards and this will mean that both international and local events will be hosted there.
The upgrade that will see the stadium house all sporting disciplines and a convention centre will be done in phases over five years.
There is also a proposal to construct a conference centre in Nakuru that will further boost conference tourism and businesses in the county.