The Maasai Mara is one of Kenya’s leading tourist destinations, which has made it a magnet for investors seeking to tap into the huge potential of the country’s hospitality sector.
The Hospitality Sector Report released by Cytonn Investments Ltd in October 2016 titled “Sailing through the storm” showed that the performance of the hotel business and related services in the Mara remained robust despite a general decline in revenues and occupancy rates in the hospitality sector in the last five years, mainly attributable to terrorist attacks, which brought about insecurity.
The report named the Mara, which is located in Narok County, as the best performing market in the country with an average daily rate (ADR) of $395 (Sh40,685) and total revenue per room available (TRevPAR) of $182 (Sh18,746).
This is due to the high rates charged for rooms in the Maasai Mara, which hosts one of the seven wonders of the world – the annual wildebeest migration, the report said.
During the annual migration, which runs from June to October and coincides with the tourist high season, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world visit the Mara to enjoy the spectacular phenomenon.
According to Mr Simeon Nanteya, the Marketing manager at Elojata Eco-camp, this has led to an influx of speculators seeking to buy land for investment around the game reserve.
He says that although Narok County in which the reserve is located has some of the lowest land prices in the country, this is merely an added advantage and not the driving force for many enthusiastic investors seeking to acquire land bordering the world-renowned game reserve.
In a bid to entice the local people to sell them land, buyers are often willing to offer high prices to sellers.
“They are willing to buy two or three times the prevailing prices, which is Sh45,000 per acre,” said Mr Nanteya.
The ever growing number of lodges, bush and tented camps is testimony to the increasing number of investors seeking a piece of the lucrative Mara hospitality sector.
Some of the foreign investors who have bought land and invested in the tours and travel segment within the Mara ecosystem are billionaire Richard Brandson (Mahali Mzuri Camp), Calvin Cottar (Cottar’s 1920 Safari camp), Piers Winkworth (Mara Offbeat camp) and Gerrard and Rainee Beaton (Rekero camp).
The rush to buy land in the county, which has caused prices to gradually shoot up, has come as both a blessing and a curse to the local pastoralist community. On the one hand, the high number of camps means employment for them.
“The local people have also got into joint ventures with investors who build hotels on their land and pay them a fraction of the revenue. This is the main method of investment for the local people willing to develop or use their land inside the conservation areas for commercial purposes,” said Nanteya.
On the other hand, the community has been involved in protracted land disputes with cartels keen on profiting from owning land that is close to the game reserve.