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A new guest arrives in Maasai Mara forcing changes

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A new guest arrives in Maasai Mara forcing changes


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A bush breakfast set up inside Naboisho Conservancy in Maasai Mara. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • In most bush lodges, guests co-exist with wild animals and fun is in the quiet, day and night game drives, and sauntering into the wilderness. But for many Kenyan holidaymakers, fun is in alcohol, meats and noisy parties.

I pull a chair in the middle of the wilderness; sip rosé wine while staring at the nothingness of the Maasai Mara horizon. Warthogs, curvaceous zebras, gold and blue-striped jackals, mangy hyenas and male wildebeest run restlessly on the vast fields. It is the start of the mating season, a spectacle worth my time.

It is 5pm and the reddish-orange colours of the sunset playing peekaboo transport me to my happy place. As darkness sets in, roars of the nocturnal animals send my friends and me back to our fenceless tented camp, nestled in a 50,000-acre conservancy, to more night sounds lulling us to sleep.

It is the animal behaviours, the silence of the wild, and the thrill of sleeping in a tent a few metres away from lions or elephants that is drawing Kenyans in droves to Maasai Mara.

When coronavirus closed international borders, Maasai Mara, a destination known to host more than 300,000 foreign tourists a year, was left to only a few hotel staff and thousands of wild animals.

“When last year’s wildebeest migration season reached, we thought it was going to be an extremely quiet time. Our international guests had diminished completely. We were so wrong. Locals flocked to Mara. People from Nairobi were so pleased to get out from the lockdown,” says Debbie Paul, Ol Seki Hemingways Camp manager.

A majority of them took advantage of the reduced park fees and hotel charges. “We came right down to Sh17,000 per night from Sh50,000 for residents. Now the charges are back up,” she says.

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Guests at Maasai Mara. PHOTO | POOL

Bookings

As this year’s migration watch draws near, hotels in Mara have started receiving bookings again.

“We have bookings already and I’m certain we will have more in coming months. I reckon we will be full with a mix of both locals and international guests,” says Ms Paul.

But while Kenya has a buoyant middle class— evidenced in holidaymakers from Nairobi who witnessed the wildebeest migration for the first time last year—this number only makes up a small percentage of the lodges’ income.

In the battered tourism industry, reliance on the wildebeest migration season is no longer sustainable, forcing camp owners to seek another kind of safari-goer; one who will come in all year round.

“We want guests to come to guided bushwalks as animals roam around, go for village safaris to learn the ways of life of the Maasai, get the thrill of dining in the bush, or enjoy a drink while watching the sunset,” says the manager of the camp that had been receiving bookings a year in advance pre-Covid.

Porini Mara Camp has also seen an increase in bookings, ahead of the migration period. “We are at 42 percent, which is good. Last year, when we’d host one guest, then wait for two weeks to get another. Many are re-bookings from overseas guests who had postponed their trips and Kenyans,” says Jeremiah Chege, product and marketing manager at Gamewatchers and Porini Camps.

David Adiaka, an assistant manager at Ol Seki camp, says there is never a dull moment in the wilderness.

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A cheetah subdues an impala at the Mara. PHOTO | POOL

Mr Adiaka who has worked in Mara for over 15 years, starting as a tour guide, and seeing Ol Seki change ownership, first from Sue Allan, then to some Italians, later to Richard Evans, says the profile of guests has also changed, so should the attractions.

“Years ago, most of the guests were old and white. Tourists in their 60s, mostly from the UK and the US. But now we are seeing younger international guests, some travelling solo. We are also seeing more Kenyans. The other day, we received a Palestinian for the first time,” he says.

During the wildebeest migration, he sees hundreds of tourists crowd at the Mara River but says this should not be the only thing worth travelling for.

Over the years, he has seen an abundant game, because of the controlled grazing rules and Sh200 fine per cow imposed on Maasais whose livestock stray.

Now they have over 38 lions at the Mara Naboisho Conservancy which houses Ol Seki and seven other lodges.

“You don’t have to come during the migration or Christmas Day or New Year. There are interesting things to see all year round. For instance, in the last two days, my guests and I have seen two leopards, a teenager, and her mother sharing a Thomson’s gazelle hang up an acacia tree. A very rare sighting because leopards are elusive. We also saw two cheetahs kill prey,” he says.

Noise in the wild

But as the bush hotels court domestic tourists, they are facing new challenges.

In most bush lodges, guests co-exist with wild animals and fun is in the quiet, day and night game drives, and sauntering into the wilderness. But for many Kenyan holidaymakers, fun is in alcohol, meats and noisy parties.

“A lot of younger guests who came last time wanted to drink, party and listen to loud music throughout yet we are in the wilderness. We had some tricky times; them wanting to drink to the wee hours of the morning, not waking up early for the game drives, wanting to eat breakfast past 11 am, and lunch at 4 o’clock,” Ms Paul says.

Such noise can stress wild animals roaming freely in the camps. The difference in culture threw the hotels, which were not used to mass travellers, out of balance.

“All of a sudden, we had a real assortment of different guests. It was tricky because some did not want to follow a routine. We were used to guests who were told, ‘well this is what you are going to do today. Are you happy with it?’ They’d say yes,” she says.

Over time, they have had to reimagine the future with domestic guests. They tweaked the menus and are planning for renovations to accommodate future guests.

Previously, small boutique hotels served continental cuisine, common foods eaten in Europe. Yet some Kenyan bush travellers want barbecued goat meat daily. Others want Indian cuisine only.

The table d’hôte menu in intimate lodges is different from buffets or à la carte served in jam-packed hotels, especially at the Coast.

“Here, we get about 20 people when fully booked. We usually have one set menu, a three-course meal for lunch and four-course for the evening,” Ms Paul says, adding that they had to create more menus.

Pre-Covid, high-end lodges in Maasai Mara had also become an escape for honeymooners.

“We have many honeymooners who come for two to four nights. On one night, we sneak them out to a cave lit beautifully, with a fireplace and a romantic dinner served under a rock. They can hear the lions and hyenas echoing under the valley,” says Ms Paul.

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A family tent at Ol Seki Hemmingways in Maasai Mar. PHOTO | POOL

But many locals travel with young children or teenagers, who can be a disruption to honeymooners.

“We are accepting families which we did not do before. We built two family tents, with a connecting twin bedroom. Children are full of life and noise, and they love to splash in the swimming pool. But if we have honeymooners, they’d want their quiet. So we may have to add another pool near the family tents,” says Ms Paul, who has managed over six intimate hotels in Tsavo, Lamu and Maasai Mara.

Running bush lodges is not everybody’s cup of tea. How does she get to work in the bush for years on end?

“I am not a city person. I love listening to the beautiful noise of the wild. When I get to Nairobi, all the smoke, people, traffic, telephones…can make my head burst,” she says, adding that she paints, plays the ukulele in her free time and is now doing a course on reflexology.

Mr Adiaka adds that locals also tend to go for fewer game drives.

“Someone wonders ‘how many times will I see the animals?’ But every game drive is different. I have been to countless and every time I’m thrilled,” he says.

His most memorable time in the wild?

“Four lionesses and one lion ran so fast in the open field, then they suddenly stopped and lay down, playing dead. The wildebeests came close, perhaps to witness the death of their enemies. They were eaten mercilessly,” he says.

He can never forget the leopard mating ritual.

“It is rare to see because the cats are very shy. We watched them mate for a few minutes, climb up a tree, climb down and get back to it, they did this for a long time,” he says.



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KQ resumes Mumbai flights after 4 months

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KQ resumes Mumbai flights after 4 months


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A Kenya Airways aircraft at JKIA. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya Airways will on Thursday resume flights to Mumbai, ending a four-month hiatus that was occasioned by increased cases of Covid-19 in the Asian state.
  • The airline in a notice to its customers yesterday said it will resume its operations on the route on September 16, 2021 with the first flight departing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 7am to arrive in Mumbai at 3:45 pm.

Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ will on Thursday resume flights to Mumbai, ending a four-month hiatus that was occasioned by increased cases of Covid-19 in the Asian state.

The airline in a notice to its customers Monday said it will resume its operations on the route on September 16, 2021 with the first flight departing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 7am to arrive in Mumbai at 3:45 pm.

The airline will then resume full operations on the route on September 20, flying three times per week on the Indian route, which is one of the most lucrative destinations on its network.

Passengers on the route will part with Sh46,000 ($419) for one-way air ticket on economy class seats from Nairobi to Mumbai- prices that are relatively the same compared to what it was charging before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Welcome back onboard! Fly from Nairobi to Mumbai starting Thursday 16th September with normal schedules resuming from Monday 20th September 2021,” said the airline in a notice to its customers yesterday.

KQ Suspended passenger flights to and from Mumbai on April 30 until further notice, following a government directive on travel between India and Kenya due to a Covid-19 crisis in that country.

The airline said on Friday that passengers who had booked tickets after May 1, the date of the last flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, will have to change their plans.

Affected passengers, KQ said, could also take vouchers for the value of their fare for future travel within 12 months.

India has seen soaring infection rates in the recent days, since the discovery of a new virus variant. Last month, India put on lockdown one of the states following a spike in cases of Covid-19.

Other countries that have banned flights to India include France, the UK Bangladesh, Oman and Hong Kong that have banned travel to and from India or asked their nationals coming from the Asian country to isolate themselves in government-approved hotels.

India has so far detected 33,264,175 corona virus cases with the number of deaths hitting 442,874 as at September 13.

A large number of patients from Kenya also travel to India every year for specialised medical treatment, especially cancer care, helping to drive medical tourism in the densely populated country that boasts affordable and easily accessible healthcare.



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Lower import volumes push mitumba prices to new highs

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Lower import volumes push mitumba prices to new highs


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Man pulls a cart loaded with second-hand clothes at Gikomba Market in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Traders paid Sh100,527 on average per tonne of the used clothes, popularly called mitumba, compared to Sh96,286 the previous year.
  • Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) banned importation of the clothes from late March through mid-August in a bid to contain the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus infections.
  • Findings of the Economic Survey 2021 suggests dealers shipped in 121,778 tonnes of mitumba in 2020, a 34.02 percent fall compared with 2019 and the lowest volumes since 2015.

The average price of a tonne of second-hand clothing items imported into the country crossed the Sh100,000 mark for the first time last year on reduced volumes in the wake of safety protocols and guidelines to curb spread of coronavirus.

Traders paid Sh100,527 on average per tonne of the used clothes, popularly called mitumba, compared to Sh96,286 the previous year.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) banned importation of the clothes from late March through mid-August in a bid to contain the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus infections.

Findings of the Economic Survey 2021 suggests dealers shipped in 121,778 tonnes of mitumba in 2020, a 34.02 percent fall compared with 2019 and the lowest volumes since 2015.

Last year’s drop was the first dip since 2011 when 76,533 tonnes were shipped in compared with 80,423 tonnes the previous year, the official data collated by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

The import bill for the merchandise amounted to Sh12.24 billion, a drop of 31.11 percent, or Sh5.53 billion, year-on-year.

TIn imposing the temporary ban on used clothes, Kebs had applied a standard which prohibits buying second-hand clothes from countries experiencing epidemics to ensure disease-causing microorganisms are not imported into Kenya.

Higher quality and relatively lower prices for mitumba has continued to drive demand for used clothes at expense of locally-made products amid higher margins enjoyed by traders largely operating in informal markets.

The lucrative second-hand clothing market has seen traders from China —a key source market for the merchandise —open shops in Gikomba, Kenya’s largest informal market for mitumba, in recent years to cash in rising demand.

Earnings from exports of articles of apparel and clothing accessories fell 5.32 percent to Sh32.92 billion last year compared with 2019, data indicates.



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Court backs Atwoli union in horticulture membership feud

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Court backs Atwoli union in horticulture membership feud


Cotu boss Francis Atwoli

Cotu boss Francis Atwoli. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • A trade union that is led by the long-serving Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli has survived an attempt to stop it from representing over 60,000 workers in the horticulture industry.
  • Newly registered Kenya Export, Floriculture, Horticulture, and Allied Workers Union (Kefhau) had filed as a case in the Employment and Labour seeking to bar the Atwoli-led Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) from representing workers in the industry.

A trade union that is led by the long-serving Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli has survived an attempt to stop it from representing over 60,000 workers in the horticulture industry.

Newly registered Kenya Export, Floriculture, Horticulture, and Allied Workers Union (Kefhau) had filed as a case in the Employment and Labour seeking to bar the Atwoli-led Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) from representing workers in the industry.

Mr Atwoli is the secretary-general of KPAWU. The rival union claimed KPAWU had encroached on its area of workers’ representation.

Justice James Rika, however, dismissed the claim and ruled that the dispute should have been taken through conciliation, and was therefore presented in court prematurely.

He also stated that Kefhau must go beyond its registration and recruit sufficient members from the employers, to be granted recognition and organisational rights.

“Registration on its own, does not afford the claimant (Kefhau) recognition. Until there is proof that Kefhau has satisfied Section 54 of the Labour Relations Act, the status quo must be maintained,” said the judge.

“Kefhau must recruit at least 50 percent plus one, of the unionisable employees in the floriculture and horticulture industry, members of the Agricultural Employers Association to be considered for recognition,” he stated.

He noted that there is a Recognition Agreement and CBA, binding Mr Atwoli’s union and Agricultural Employers Association, affecting 73 Flower Growers Group of employers, and over 60,000 employees.

“It is objectionable for Kefhau to be allowed organisational rights, and the legitimacy to receive trade union dues and agency fees, from over 60,000 employees, just on the strength of registration as a trade union,” said the judge.

Kefhau wanted the court to declare that it is the sole trade union, which is allowed by its constitution to carry out activities in the export floriculture and vegetable industry, and an order restraining Mr Atwoli’s from representing workers in that area.



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