A conference at a lake side? Naivasha resorts say ‘YES WE CAN’ and ‘YES YOU SHOULD’

LAKE NAIVASHA – AN EMERGING CONFERENCE HUB

(Posted 13th October 2014)

Of the many hosted buyers who attended the Magical Kenya Travel Expo last week in Nairobi, most knew that Kenya’s capital was also the country’s primary conferencing location, offering, besides the Kenyatta International Convention Centre a range of other meeting facilities, from the size of board rooms catering for 6 or 12 or even 20 people to some taking several hundred participants in theatre style seating, or less when using a different layout.

It also came as no surprise at all that those guests invited by the Kenya Tourism Board knew little else over and above that, an omission this article will try to set right.

For a while has there been talk to construct a second national convention centre at the Kenya coast, and perhaps a third one at Kenya’s lake side city of Kisumu, both of which can be reached by air with multiple connections every day. The KICC is also the coordination office for promoting MICE business in the country, but again, there has been a lingering opinion that while that is being done, it focuses mostly on the known places like Nairobi and Mombasa and few other choices are offered unless specifically requested.

In contrast do local NGO’s and corporates already patronize facilities outside those three cities and with just 100 kilometres on a fairly good road from the capital Nairobi, an hour’s drive once at the outskirts of the city along a scenic road into the Great African Rift Valley, Naivasha has in the recent past turned itself into a conferencing hub, almost unnoticed and yet providing all the right ingredients of a successful conference, including the lack of city distractions which may impact on the participants who succumbed to a long night out on the town.

The latest addition, the Enashipai Resort & Spa and twice winner already in its short history of the coveted ‘World Travel Awards – Best Spa Resort’ features a state of the art conference facility which can either be divided into several smaller rooms or else, when fully opened up, is able to accommodate up to 600 people in a theatre style layout. Additional break out rooms are available and the equipment is arguably the most modern I have seen anywhere in Eastern Africa.

Next door is the classic Lake Naivasha Country Club, a safari style property unlike the villa style at the Enashipai, and I take even odds that both have their fans and aficionados. The Lake Naivasha Country Club has a main conference hall for up to 400 people but also offers additional break out rooms should those be required for separate sessions.

As the map shows, further down the South Lake Road can the Naivasha Simba Lodge be found, which rose to fame as the venue for the Sudan – South Sudan peace talks from which a peace treaty arose leading to 6 years of semi autonomy for the South and then the independence vote.

Another resort with some conferencing facilities is the Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge, besides which smaller and perhaps cozier options exist at Elsamere, the former holiday home of the Adamsons, made famous through the film ‘Born Free’.

The Enashipai and the Lake Naivasha Country Club, located almost as neighbours, have captured the essence of conference and incentives tourism perhaps the best and do accept groups larger than they can accommodate, knowing that the resort next door will be happy to accommodate the overflow, and vice versa of course without squabbles over rates or fears that the other party would begin to ‘steal business’..

This form of competition through cooperation, to first increase the cake of conferences coming to the lake area before sharing it, is vital in order to succeed and relations are cordial even when going into the market place to hard sell events to come to Lake Naivasha.

Successful on the local domestic and to a lesser extent the regional front, what both resorts have said is added penetration of the wider continental and international MICE market is now next on their marketing agenda. Incentive group organizers, coming here to check out the Lake and the resorts along the shores, find a range of activities on offer and being out of Nairobi, many of the issues presently plaguing the country simply do not arise. It is also a shorter drive to some of the key national parks and game reserves, like the Masai Mara or Nakuru, which allows for the crucial ‘play’ after the work in the conference room is done. Kenya as a conference facility, without going on safari either before or afterwards, is simply unimaginable, having come a long way from home, and with the range of safari properties available, literally any size incentive group, or convention can be sure that those who want to go on safari will be able to do just that.

Both resorts also have Spa’s, that vital element today to be able to bring spouses along for such trips and add the wellness component into the itinerary and keep the ladies happy, while the male spouses of female conference participants can perhaps indulge in a game of golf or a spot of fishing in the lake.

Finally are the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, Lake Naivasha included, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and as such magnets for visitors from near and far, who come to appreciate these natural features. Some tourists from abroad, like mountaineers ‘ticking off the big names’ or birders travel the world in search of rare species, do actually travel to places listed by UNESCO and that should further aid the marketers of Naivasha’s resorts and conference hotels, putting the UNESCO feather in their hat.
With challenges remaining to fill the beds at the Kenya coast and having to deal with the lower occupancies in city hotels and game lodges, creative marketing is needed and new and emerging domestic destinations, especially when easy to reach from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, like the Lake Naivasha zone, can perhaps tip the scale when operators abroad make up their mind where to send their next incentive group to or where to hold their next convention or major conference abroad.

Remains to say that all stakeholders I met over the past 10 days affirm that Kenya is open and remains open for business, proclaim that Kenya still got what it takes and their individual stories are legion when they explain #WhyILoveKenya.

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