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How Kenyan entrepreneur turned childhood dream into Sh2bn resort

The newly opened Rainbow Resort along the Nairobi-Thika super highway.

The newly opened Rainbow Resort along the Nairobi-Thika super highway.

In 1982, Julius Kamau, then a college student, dreamt of standing on top of his own beautiful hotel with water fountains and flowers sipping coffee. For the young man from a poor family, the prospects of realising that dream then appeared remote.

‘‘I then laughed at myself… I was as broke as a desert rat,” Mr Kamau says.

Thirty one years later, his daughter Pauline Kamau sits at the Rainbow Ruiru Resort’s reception attending to a client— a hotel that her father has built.

Mr Kamau started the journey to fulfil his childhood dream in 1998 while living in East London. While shopping for vegetables in the foreign land he recalled the dream. He took the first step.

“In January 1998, I asked a Nigerian friend to put this dream into a real picture. He did it and I hanged the picture on the wall. Every morning, I would look at it and say, ‘thank you Lord for giving me a wonderful five-star hotel,’’ he says.

In May the same year, he took the next step. He mortgaged his house and asked his brother to look for one acre piece of land in Ruiru. His brother got him a piece of land but he was disappointed as the land was an abandoned quarry that Ruiru Town Council had earmarked as a dumping site. Little did he know that it is at this quarry where his dream was to be turned into reality.

Today, he has the Rainbow Ruiru Resort in Kiambu County to show for his hardwork, managing to set up an investment in a remote area; a resort many of his friends thought was a waste of money and time because of its location.

It is the serenity and the ambience that draws visitors to the over Sh2 billion resort. Its interior design resembles a royal yacht. The hotel that took Mr Kamau 15 years to build has a helipad, 130 rooms, 12 fully furnished apartments with Internet, a pent house, a cocktail bar, jacuzzi, gym and a business centre.

It has a 300 bed capacity. Accommodation charges range from Sh4,400 to Sh9,900 per night. At the hotel’s 11 floor which houses the helipad, one can see Kilima Mbogo at a distance and the illusion of the mountain moves closer as one watches it from the rooftop.

Constructing the resort was not an easy task. Mr Kamau who runs a security firm, Rainbow Guarding in the UK says the Ruiru investment was funded by savings.

Rainbow Guarding was founded in 1994 and offers security solutions to Berkley Homes, Laing Partnership Housing, Salvation Army and London Property Plc among other companies in UK.

‘‘The owner believes his entire life could not be confined in London,’’ said Mathias Mukundi, the general manager of Rainbow Ruiru Resort.

Ms Kamau has been taking care of her father’s investment; a project she says is a well calculated decision of how Kenyans are sending some of their earnings back home instead of investing all their money in a foreign country.

Mr Kamau came from a humble background and the desire to rise from poverty inspired him to seek a different life. Now 59, he can stand among Kenya’s millionaires, but according to his workers, a humble millionaire.

‘‘The founder is one of those people who despite having immense wealth, he does not use his position to gain prominence, he does not believe in fame but on humane values that can give birth to development-oriented ideas,’’ said Mr Mukundi.

Mr Kamau who still lives in the UK connects tourists visiting Kenya to his hotel. The hotel management also works with local tourism agents to market Rainbow Ruiru Resort. The team is working on ways to make own bookings directly in coming years.

‘‘We want to create a clear contact where tourists visiting Kenya will be flown from the Kenyan airport by our own choppers direct to our hotel, landing at our modern helipad,’’ said Mr Mukundi.

Mr Kamau has entrusted Mr Mukundi who has been in the hospitality industry for 25 years, having worked with major hotel chains in Kenya among them the Sarova Hotels to run his hotel.

Though not a hotelier, Mr Kamau has built the hotel to take advantage of an increasing number of tourists and business travellers coming to Kenya and local visitors seeking adventure in places out of town.

‘‘For years there has never been a hotel in Kiambu County that could accommodate large number of clients and offer services that we are offering now,’’ Mr Mukundi says.

‘‘We are optimistic that this investment will successfully run for decades, we are ready to add values that blend with my father’s aspirations when he was setting up this hotel,’’ said Ms Kamau, who also acts as the hotel’s deputy manager.

East African Breweries is one of their main clients and Mr Mukundi is optimistic that with the new devolved system of government, Rainbow Ruiru Resort’s conference facilities will lure more visitors.

‘‘Thika Superhighway has come as a blessing, with the hotel being a few meters from the main road, the demand for decent yet affordable accommodation is inevitable. We are doing well compared to previous years when Thika road was rough,’’ he said.

Mr Mukundi said there Kenyans in the diaspora should be encouraged to invest back home. He said it is worrying that only a small number of Kenyans are remitting their earnings and investing here.

-Business Daily

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