Imagine spending a night in the caves where Mau Mau fighters hid as the colonial government relentlessly pursued them. Also picture yourself spending the next day in one of the houses where their colonial masters lived in opulence. This is the experience the Nyandarua County government was selling at this year’s East Africa Travel Expo.
The government is one among several organisations that pitched tent outside KICC’s Tsavo Hall in a bid to attract as many local tourist and investors in their areas. They are new entrants in the annual event.
Mr Shadrack Kanyungo, Nyandarua county tourism officer, said the government had a two-pronged approach – to either buy the housesm aptly named happy homes – from their present owners or enter into agreements with them to renovate them and use them as tourism attractions. Already, he said 20 houses had been identified.
“In our county tourism is a new venture. We want to give our visitors the Mau Mau experience vis a vis the colonial masters,” Mr Kanyungo said.
But it is not only the Mau Mau experience that the county is selling. It is also leveraging on the little known Lake Ol-bolosat, the only lake in the central Kenya and home to more than 300 bird species, to bring tourists in the region.
“We are calling on investors to come and build cottages,” said the tourism officer in expectation of a tourist’s influx. He added that a report was expected that would list the incentives available. “Among the items that are under consideration are land leases and reduced taxation.”
Next to the Nyandarua tent, Machackos County, which has leveraged on its tourism offering since the start of devolved system to bring in investors, was busy selling its upcoming events. And in continuing to pull big events that have for long been the associated with Nairobi, the county’s Machakos Peoples’ Park was hosting an air show the following weekend.
The show has traditionally been held at Nairobi Dam, near Wilson Airport.
There after the county would host another first, the Tour De Machakos, named after the famous continental cycling event, Tour De France. The two day event, which was expected to attract, elite cyclists would take part on the newly built Mwala-Kithimani road that was the subject of a lot of debate earlier in the year after taking only three months to complete.
Mombasa County is also turning its eye on domestic tourists after suffering a blow when some of the high-end hotels closed and laid off some staff after the adverse travel advisories issued by various embassies in the wake of Al-shbaab attacks. According to Mr Lawrence Mukoyani, the experience was a wakeup call.
“We are pushing for domestic tourism and diversifying our portfolio. For instance we intend to have a monthly Mshikaki festival where people can come and sample various coast dishes,” said Mukoyani.
Visitors at the expo lauded the counties for identifying key tourist attractions that can be used to boost their incomes.
“Seeing counties here competing to attract local tourists and investors in their backyards is a breath of fresh air from the politicking we’ve become accustomed to. If they keep at pace it we’ll begin reaping the fruits of devolution,” said Ms Beverly Nyawira.
“I am surprised to learn that there are still a lot of tourists attractions that are unexplored in our counties. I am glad that they have woken up to the reality. I will be among the first to sign up to explore these virgin spots, as one county officer I met today termed them,” said Mr Sheik Oluoch.
Other counties that attended the expo included Isiolo, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Bugoma and Kakamega.