Kenyan Safari Begins Minutes from Airport

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Many people find the prospect of staying in airport hotels dreary at best. They tend to be located in industrial parts of cities or far from city centres. They can be surrounded by roads and highways and are built to move lots of people, not to look nice. The surrounding areas can be very common to all nations – warehouses, office parks, nondescript restaurants and hotels – and give few clues to where you are apart from the weather and the languages on the sign boards.

In short, they are the last place you would choose to stay to get a flavour of a country or culture. But in Nairobi, Kenya, this experience has been turned on its head. While many people travel to Africa to take in the breathtaking beauty of the continent and absorb the fascinating cultures and people, they usually wait to do this once they are far from the airport. But not in Nairobi, where it is possible to begin an African adventure right at the airport.

The Nairobi Tented Camp ( opened in December 2010. It allows tourists to sleep in the open savannah ( The experience is properly wild, with game animals roaming near the camp. Started by Kenyan Guy Lawrence and drawing on his years of experience running safaris and adventure travel, he partnered with Will Knocker, Marian Mason and Ibrahim Ali Abayo, an elder from the Boran tribe who works as assistant camp manager.

The business makes effective use of its website, interlinking good design, photographs and a blog with other social media to make the camp appealing to tourists using the web.

Tourists can expect to see rhino, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, leopard, antelope and possibly lions while listening to the yelps of hyenas at night.

Located just minutes from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport (, Wilson Airport and Nairobi City itself, the camp is nestled in a forest in Nairobi National Park ( It is the first accommodation to be allowed in this part of the park.

In total, it takes 30 minutes from landing at the airport to be settled in the camp. The last 20 minutes of the drive to the camp takes place in the park, and gets the wild game adventure started early.

In real estate people talk about “location, location location”: find the right place, and you reap the benefits. And you cannot find a better location than Kenya’s oldest national park – 12,000 hectares in size – located beside East Africa’s dynamic regional hub of Nairobi, Kenya. The business is a good example of how a twist on the traditional safari camp and resort can attract attention.

The camp is surrounded by savannah plains on one side, and the city of Nairobi on the other.

The tented camp pitches itself at travellers looking for a better option than just staying in a nondescript airport hotel, or who are looking for a great way to begin a longer journey into Kenya.

“Safaris in Kenya used to start after a long five-hour drive down to the Maasai Mara,” camp owner Gary Lawrence told Monocle magazine. “But now your safari can start 10 minutes after leaving the airport.”

Kenya has been in recovery mode since its tourism industry was hit hard by a combination of events in 2008. Kenya experienced violent rioting during the 2007 and 2008 elections and a body blow from the 2008 global economic crisis. Both events caused a severe drop in tourism.

In 2007, the country received more than 2 million foreign tourists and close to US $1 billion in revenue, but numbers fell the following year. However, tourism grew 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 in Kenya, putting the country on course to meet its 2012 goal of returning to 2 million tourists a year.

Tourism is a critical foreign currency earner for Kenya and saw growth in revenues of 18 percent in 2010 from 2009 (Kenya Tourist Board).

Kenya’s strategy has included aggressive marketing campaigns in new markets to attract tourists. The country is billing itself as a “high value for high spending tourists” and it has seen increasing numbers of visitors from the booming emerging economies of India, Russia, China and the Middle East. Most of Kenya’s tourists come from the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and Germany.


1) Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust: The Trust runs the Campi Ya Kanzi Maasai-run ecotourist resort in Kenya. Website: and

2) Ecotourism Kenya: Ecotourism Kenya promotes responsible tourism practices within the tourism industry. This entails encouraging the adoption of best practices in the use of tourism resources, working with local communities and managing wastes and emissions. Website:

3) Magical Kenya: The official Kenya Destination website designed to help tourists plan a trip. Website:

4) Ministry of Tourism Kenya: A website packed with information on accommodation, parks and reserves and business opportunities. Website:

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