Meru County is positioning itself as a tourist destination after years in the shadow of neighbouring Laikipia and Samburu counties.
Although endowed with widely known tourist sites such as Meru National Park, Mt Kenya National Park, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Rutundu Log Cabins where Price William proposed to Kate, it is yet to reach its full potential.
Insufficient hotel accommodation in the county and neighbouring towns has kept tourists away. This has kept the county’s tourism profile low. Meru Governor Peter Munya says lack of enough bed capacity in the Meru National Park has kept away holidaymakers, denying the region employment and better business opportunities.
“Creation of a community run conservancy in the northern grazing area of Nyambene will not only be a source of wealth and employment but will also be crucial in mitigating conflict,” the governor said.
“This is an area teeming with wildlife and great landscapes. Magado (Igombe) crater recently featured on ‘Africa from the Air,’ in The Telegraph’s Travel Magazine, is located there. My government will build hotels and lease them out to increase the bed space,” he observed.
Meru County tourism Director Ntoitha M’Mithiaru said although the county has recognised tourism as one of its economic pillars, hotel industry has to keep pace as an enabler to tourism growth.
He said that findings from a mapping and assessment exercise on hospitality industry in the county found that bed capacity in the region is less than 2,500. “Our wish is to exceed 10,000 beds in the next three years,” M’Mithiaru. “In the county we have inadequate bed capacity and this has affected tourist numbers to both Mt Kenya and Meru national parks.”
He, however, lauded investors who have in the last nine months put up two four-star hotels, one in Meru town and another in Nkubu town, an important passage for tourists on their way to Mt Kenya National Park. Half of Mt Kenya National Park is in Meru County.
Alba Hotel in Meru town and Nkubu Heritage Hotel have 139-bed capacity. Alba Hotel, opened in July, provides 51 en suite rooms of different categories while Nkubu Heritage Hotel, with a capacity of up to 88-bed occupancy opened early this month.
The hotel has conference facility that can hold up to 200 guests, a restaurant for up to 500 in outdoor setting and gardens for outdoor events suitable for open dinners which comes with a dance floor, a band and garden lights. Nkubu Heritage Hotel would provide accommodation to tourists using that the route to Mt Kenya National Park and also those on transit to Meru National Park.
Nkubu is on the way to Mt Kenya National Park, thus a hotel in the town will be nearer to the tourist’s destination, Mr M’Mithiaru said. He said the county government is making Nkubu-Mt Kenya National Park road an all-weather road to give tourists easy access to 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 and Leopard Rock Lodge inside Meru National Park, but these do not provide enough accommodation for the number of tourists we anticipate.” Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi said that Meru County has not benefited from huge and untapped potential of Mount Kenya related tourism.
Meru National Park is larger than Maasai Mara. Beyond traditional wildlife and scenery tourism potential, it has new forms of tourism such as conference tourism, golf tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism, eco-tourism, and fishing tourism is there.”
“There is also Meru National Park which has nine permanent rivers, all-tarmac roads and has all the big five game – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros and is larger than Maasai Mara National Reserve,” he said.
Murungi said that Mount Kenya east tourist circuit has not been active largely because of lack of accommodation. “Tourism has been down especially in the eastern part of Mt Kenya, but we expect Meru to be a prime destination for local tourists now that accommodation is in place,” he said. “We anticipate seeing significant flow of local tourists and holiday makers.”
Murungi supports the construction of a road to climb Mount Kenya by car up to 13,000 feet.
The county administration plans to upgrade roads in the county as an incentive to investors wishing to build hotels and also encourage tourists to visit the region.
Work is being done on Nkubu-Mt Kenya road to an all-weather road to give tourists easy access to Mt Kenya National Park. “We are also upgrading Meru-Nanyuki road near Timau to bitumen standard because this road is used by tourists seeking to climb Mt Kenya’s Lenana Peak, the third highest peak and the most ascended,” Mr M’Mithiaru said.
“In addition, the county will connect feeder roads to Isiolo-Garbatura road to open up the conservancy we are planning to establish and also Isiolo Road, which is part of Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project.”
According to the county estimation, it requires at least Sh1 billion for road projects. The county, however, got a boost last month after Munya signed a Sh880 million soft loan with the Exim Bank of Malaysia to finance upgrading 300km of roads in the county.
Meru County is also leveraging on Isiolo Airport, which is being upgraded to international airport. The airport is shared by Meru and Isiolo counties