More than 40 tourism sites in the Mt Kenya region are now open to investors wishing to unlock their potential.
The sites were identified in a recent survey commissioned by stakeholders in the tourism industry mainly to figure out how to boost tourism in the region.
Tourism experts say the region has the potential to create as much as a third of the country’s tourism earnings, and the attractions could help in achieving this.
According to the survey, tourist attractions include historical sites, agricultural activities and undocumented physical features.
Among the sites are 33 lakes on Mt Kenya that could be promoted for trout sport fishing, Mau Mau caves, the oldest churches built by the first missionaries, traditional shrines, and landscapes, among others.
“The region can offer more tourism products than is usually thought. Interested investors should particularly be keen to package historical products for the domestic market,” regional principal tourism officer Isaac Kirinya said.
The region’s tourism has been traditionally pegged to game viewing in both Aberdare and Mt Kenya national parks and game sanctuaries in Laikipia district.
“Away from game drives, there is still a huge potential to grow tourism in this region to the level of other destinations in the country. The region could tap into at least a third of the national tourism cake,” tour operator Simon Kagiri said.
Mr Kagiri, a member of the Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit Association, says Sh10 million is needed annually to promote regional tourism to the domestic market and an additional Sh5 million for capacity building.
In 2007, the European Union, through the Tourism Trust Fund, gave the association Sh12 million to set up a secretariat.
The survey says the destination is not fully maximised, resulting in low tourism numbers in the region with most hotel facilities reporting 10-20 per cent occupancy.
Jane Macharia, the consultant who conducted the survey, emphasised the need to market aggressively by creating awareness and visibility of the unfamiliar attractions and products on offer.
She said branding the region to bring out its unique and most interesting features should also be undertaken.
Nyeri town, for instance, is endowed with many national monuments, among them the White Rhino Hotel and the Italian Memorial Church where hundreds of World War II Italian veterans are buried.
“Most of the undocumented attraction sites are in a poor state and lack basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, restaurants and shops,” she said.
Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru and Mt Kenya itself have been cited as lacking proper tourism facilities.
Quality facilities that are available in Nyeri and Laikipia are quite expensive especially for domestic tourists.
While the government should develop the infrastructure, the private sector should be assisted through funding to develop the undocumented sites and facilities, her report recommends.
It also said educational institutions should help by building the capacity of the stakeholders through training.
However, some investors have already leapt at some of the opportunities identified in the survey.
Mr Charles Wanja of Summit Venture Expeditions says his firm had developed a tourism product for high-altitude trout fishing at various tarns–mountain lakes–on Mt Kenya.
According to the survey, Murang’a district, which is ordinarily assumed not to be a tourism destination, is sitting on the potential of Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga – an area said to be the first settlement of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the founders of the Kikuyu community.
Although, the area in Kiharu division is gazetted as a national monument, experts are calling for its promotion as a cultural and heritage centre where traditional Kikuyu customs like dowry payments, engagements, cultural nights and family outings can be observed.
The Roman Catholic shrine in Tuthu area of Kanyenyaini where the first Consolata missionaries established their base and celebrated the first Mass in 1902 is another little-known site.