After operating in the shadows of the neighbouring Laikipia and Samburu counties for many years, Meru County, has resolved to use its assets to become the tourist destination east of Mount Kenya.
The Meru County administration says that although the region boasts widely known tourist sites such as the Meru National Park, Mt Kenya National Park, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Rutundu Log Cabins where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton, it is yet to attain its full potential.
The latest push by the county to consolidate its tourist sites and grow tourism was prompted by an investor conference held in June 2013 in Meru town, which identified the promotion of value-addition to agricultural produce and as well as the promotion of tourism as priority areas in which it needs to take action to achieve rapid economic transformation.
The county administration has said it will pursue private investors to increase accommodation capacity by building new hotels and renovating the existing ones.
Insufficient hotel accommodation in Meru and neighbouring towns has kept tourists away, which has contributed to the low level of tourism.
Meru Governor Peter Munya said inadequate bed capacity at the Meru National Park had kept away holiday makers, thereby denying the county employment and business opportunities. “My government will build hotels and lease them out to increase bed space,” he said.
Meru County Tourism Director Mr Ntoitha M’Mithiaru said although the county had recognised tourism as one of its economic pillars, the hotel industry has to keep pace as an enabler for its growth.
LOW BED CAPACITY
He said the findings from a mapping and assessment survey of the hospitality industry in the county found that bed capacity in the region is below 2,500.
“Our wish is to have more than 10,000 beds in the next three years,” Mr M’Mithiaru, a former MP and Central Banker said. “We have inadequate bed capacity, and this has affected tourist numbers to both the Mt Kenya and Meru National parks.”
He, however, praised investors who had built four-star hotels in the last nine months, one of which is in Meru town and another in Nkubu, 12 kilometres from Meru, which is an important transit point for tourists on their way to Mt Kenya National Park., half of which is in Meru County.
Alba Hotel in Meru town and Nkubu Heritage Hotel have a joint bed capacity of 139. Alba Hotel, which has 51 en suite rooms of different categories, was officially opened in July 2013. Meanwhile, Nkubu Heritage Hotel, with a bed capacity of 88, officially opened last month.
The hotel has conference facilities that can accommodate up to 200 guests, a restaurant for up to 500 in an outdoor setting and gardens suitable for open dinners. The restaurant also has a dance floor, a band and garden lights.
Nkubu Heritage Hotel will provide accommodation for tourists using that route to Mt Kenya National Park and also those in transit to Meru National Park.
Nkubu is on the way to Mt Kenya National Park, so a hotel in the town will be nearer the tourists’ destination, Mr M’Mithiaru said.
He said the county government was upgrading the Nkubu-Mt Kenya National Park road to an all-weather road to make it easier to access Mt Kenya National Park.
“Anybody coming up with a hotel is welcome because they are helping us increase our bed capacity. The county cannot do it on its own,” M’Mithiaru said.
“The county owns Meru County Hotel in Meru town centre and Leopard Rock Lodge inside Meru National Park, but these are not enough for the number of tourists we anticipate.”
Meru Senator Mr Kiraitu Murungi said that the county has not benefited from the huge and untapped potential of Mount Kenya-related tourism.
“Meru National Park is larger than the Maasai Mara and beyond traditional wildlife and scenery, there is great potential for new forms of tourism such as conference tourism, golf tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism, eco-tourism, and fishing.
“There is also the Meru National Park, which has nine permanent rivers, all-tarmac roads and is home to the big five namely, lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinoceros. It is also larger than the Masai Mara National Reserve,” he said.
Mr Murungi said the Mount Kenya east tourist circuit had not been active largely due to lack of accommodation.
“Tourism has been down, especially in the eastern part of Mt Kenya,” he said. “But we expect Meru to be a prime destination for local tourists now that accommodation is in place and we anticipate seeing a significant flow of local tourists and holidaymakers.”
Mr Murungi pledged to mobilise resources to improve security, roads, telecommunication, hotels and airstrips to make Meru a world-class tourist destination. He has supported the construction of a road that makes it possible to drive up Mt Kenya up to 13,000 feet.
Mr Munya said the huge potential for tourism in Meru is untapped, citing Mt Kenya, the Nyambene Ranges, the Lewa Conservancy and the Meru National Park.
“The creation of a community-run conservancy in the northern grazing area of Nyambene will not only be a source of wealth and employment for the local community, but will also be crucial in mitigating conflict,” the governor said.
This is an area teeming with wildlife and great landscapes. Magado (Igombe) crater, which featured on “Africa from the Air” in The Telegraph’s Travel Magazine, is located there.
Mr M’Mithiaru said the administration plans to upgrade roads in the county as an incentive to investors who wish to build hotels and also encourage tourists to visit. He added that the Nkubu-Mt Kenya road an all-weather road to give tourists easy access to Mt Kenya National Park.
“We are also upgrading the Meru-Nanyuki road near Timau because this road is used by tourists who want to climb Mt Kenya’s Lenana Peak, the third highest peak and the most climbed,” Mr M’Mithiaru said.
“In addition, the county will connect feeder roads to Isiolo-Garbatulla road to open up the conservancy we are planning to establish and also the Isiolo road, which is part of the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapset) project.”
The county estimates that it will need at least Sh1 billion for the roads project. Notably, it got a boost last year after Mr Munya signed a Sh880 million soft loan with Exim Bank of Malaysia to finance upgrading 300 kilometres of the county’s roads.
The local administration also sought to set the record straight regarding “misinformation” about the location of some tourist destinations.
Under its tourism master plan, the county will identify, preserve and promote its tourist sites, some of which been incorrectly said to be in Laikipia County. Among these are the Rutundu Log Cabins, which are in Meru County but are sometimes listed as being in Laikipia County. At 10,200 feet, Rutundu boasts distinctive vegetation and wildlife.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is home to numerous animals, has also been said to be in Laikipia. The conservancy is globally known for its annual marathon, in which the number of participants has grown from 180 in 2000 to the current 1,100.
Mr Murungi said the county would identify and protect all its tourist sites. “Meru has great tourist potential but some have been wrongly identified as belonging to Samburu or Laikipia counties,” he said.