East Africa: Maasai Mara Hotels and Camps Woo Local Tourists With Lower Prices

Hotels, tented camps and travel agents have significantly lowered prices amid the Covid-19 pandemic, causing a gush of local tourists to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Kenyans, especially those living in Nairobi, visited the reserve to take advantage of the lower rates, most of them spending over two nights in lodges and camps in the last three days.

This is especially considering the Great Wildebeest Migration, an annual migration of herds of grazers from Northern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara in Kenya, across the Sand River crossing points.

The migration of over two million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles moving in a regular pattern to the Maasai Mara ecosystems in search of green pasture, is the seventh wonder of the world.

The deal has attracted many Kenyans who would not afford to visit the reserve under normal circumstances.

NUMBERS IMPROVING

The Fig Tree Camp in the Mara, which is under Mada Hotels, is one of those that has offered attractive rates in efforts to promote local tourism as the sector slowly recovers from effects of the pandemic.

Acting Manager George ole Kuluo noted a reduction in the price of a package from Sh48,500 during peak seasons in the past to Sh18,000.

"Following the Covid-19 outbreak, it is now a Kenyans for Kenyans affair. The little we get will keep us going. It is time to join hands and save the sector from collapse," said Mr Kuluo.

He said Fig Tree had 50 guests last weekend, who raised the occupancy rate from zero to over 60 per cent in the last three days as the hotel has 80 rooms.

Kekorok Lodge lowered its prices from Sh34,500 for a double room and Sh24,000 for a single room to Sh18,500 and Sh14, 500 respectively.

Manager Peter ole Pere said that as a result, they recorded 134 visitors in the 180-bed facility from Saturday to Monday.

"We were overwhelmed since the clients were more than we expected. We received Chinese nationals working on the SGR, teams from the UN, expatriates from embassies in Nairobi and residents who wanted to witness the migration," said Mr Pere.

Olarro Tours and Travel Company has informed its clients of a Sh15, 000 to Sh21,000 charge for a van to take them to different camps and hotels over three days.

A Land Cruiser drive will cost between Sh18, 000 and Sh25, 000 depending on the locations of facilities in the reserve.

STEADY RECOVERY

Establishment in the Mara closed their doors soon after the country's first Covid-19 case was reported on March 13. So far, 15 facilities out of 230 have received the greenlight to operate.

Players in the industry have been tapping into local tourism as countries around the world are on lockdowns as part of measures to curb Covid-19.

But they are hopeful that business will stabilise as international passenger flights resumed on August 1.

Kipeen ole Sayialel, a hotelier in the reserve and proprietor of Loita Planes Hotel and Riverside Camps in Talek expressed hope for the sector's steady recovery.

"Every coin counts so we decided to lower prices to accommodate everybody, especially the locals," he said.

"We know the world has been hurt by Covid-19 and that so many challenges have come up but we have found a way to relieve the pain caused by travel restrictions."

Fairman Muhingi, Director of Operations at Villa Rosa Kempinski, said it received a sizable number of clients at its Olare Mara Camp from last week.

GREAT EXPERIENCES

Nairobi businessman Johnstone Ndegwa shared his experience at Sikinani gate, saying he stumbled on "irresistible offers" to travel to the reserve during the pandemic.

"I stayed at Matira Bush Camp in the reserve, paying Sh9, 500 per night instead of the usual Sh17,500," said Mr Ndegwa,proprietor of Dillons Hotel in Nkoliba.

Mr Ndegwa, who witnessed the breath-taking migration, said the Mara had always been in his list of places to visit but that he had held off the plan due to the costs.

In Tanzania, domestic tourists have also taken advantage of unbeatable offers by hoteliers and tour operators to sample the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli declared the country free of the virus.

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