The return of the World Rally Championship [WRC] Safari Rally to the country after a 19-year hiatus has been a blessing to the recovery of the tourism industry battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since 2021, Naivasha has played host to the coveted competition where thousands of local and international rally enthusiasts camp for days in the lakeside town for a taste of its thrill.
For three years now, local hospitality industry players have upped their ante to welcome visitors and earn millions of cash inflows during the preparations and three-day showdown the rally promises.
Welcome to La Belle Inn, an iconic hotel first established by the colonial British in Naivasha town in the early 1920s.
The hotel which is opposite the town railway station acted as a stopover and host to the early white settlers, farmers, and traders enroute to the farming regions of the country’s Rift Valley.
Until 1984, the hotel was known by the name Bell Inn and it offered and served continental cuisines with a blend of African and Indian tastes to its customers.
In 1984, a French woman, Janine Singer purchased the facility after she fell in love with the town’s ambiance and renamed it La Belle Inn, a name it has retained to date.
Ms. Singer brought with her, a taste of French taste adding to the menu extra cuisines such as croissants, Danish pastries, and Swiss rolls among others.
She operated and ran the hotel without a hitch until a Kenyan came knocking in 1993 ready to roll up his sleeves and venture into the industry that was so dear to him.
Meet Mark Kariuki, a 69-year-old gentle giant in his demeanor with over 50 years in the hospitality industry. He worked for the Hilton group of hotels for 20 years before he called it quits to try entrepreneurship.
Kariuki who has been at the helm as the proprietor of the hotel for 30 years now says the hotel has served both the lowly and mighty in society among them the four former Kenyan Presidents.
From first president Jomo Kenyatta who used to address locals outside the hotel on his way to Nakuru to Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki, and the now retired Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kariuki, with a grinning face and smile says he has seen the hotel transition and grow bit by bit weathering all turbulences including the Covid pandemic.
Kariuki has since introduced in the menu favorite Kenyan delicacies such as Nyama Choma, Tilapia fish, and Kienyeji chicken among others while still maintaining the original taste of earlier cuisines.
When the KNA team met with Kariuki at the hotel premises, he was overseeing the final touches and preparations of the white-walled hotel with a rich European heritage ready for his guests.
All the hotel’s 14 double rooms have been fully booked by Safari Rally enthusiasts for the three days starting Thursday this week ready for the event showdown and merry-making.
“We are offering our customers a taste of our European themed guest rooms and ambiance at a cost of Sh4000 per room per day”, said Kariuki.
Kariuki says the hotel also has a 100-capacity conference hall and bar area which is loved due to its ambiance, soft music, and convenient location.
The World Rally Championships, Kariuki says, have since turned around the fortunes of the hospitality industry and placed Kenya and Naivasha on the World map as a destination of choice.
Kariuki said his customers will enjoy improved services spoiled for choice between local and world-class cuisines as well as a taste of crafted alcoholic drinks.
With a new curtain here, a drying coat of repainted walls there, a well-manicured lawn, a fresh breath of air from the guest rooms, and a welcoming allure, the iconic hotel is ready to serve and attend to its guest.
Kariuki who also serves as the vice chair of the Naivasha Tourism Association lauded the government’s efforts and measures to ensure a seamless competition.
“The rally has improved business in the hospitality industry and created thousands of job opportunities for Kenyans”, said Kariuki.
The rally which is slated to start tomorrow and through Sunday has attracted 34 car entries and over 800,000 local and international visitors who are expected to cheer up the once-sleepy town.
Kariuki’s mission is to expand the hotel to accommodate more guests while maintaining its original European fabric, taste, and heritage for generations to come.