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Ross Evans, Ross Evans,

Interview Of Ross Evans, Group Operations Director, Hemingways Collection

Travel Trade Luxury: In 2015, the number of visitors from traditional markets such as the UK, the US and Italy declined, did this trend continue in 2016?

Ross Evans: Certainly visitor numbers in general in Kenya were down in 2015 and we were affected particularly at our coastal property and our camp in the Masai Mara.

[As for 2016, it was] a more positive year and Hemingways Nairobi has achieved record months in July, August and September mostly due to leisure travellers visiting Kenya on safari. We have seen strong demand from traditional markets such as the US and Europe however also increasing numbers of guests from South America and particularly Asia.

Affluent guests tend to arrive from all over the world but for safaris the US is the biggest high end market.

The coast of Kenya is not very popular with that market at the moment and is better known by the European market.

We are very positive about prospects for [this year] with Kenya seemingly back on the map as a top destination in Africa.

We have a very strong pipeline of bookings for Hemingways Nairobi and we were very pleased to see Kenya topping the Hot 10 list of global destinations at Virtuoso Travel Week in August [2016].

Travel Trade Luxury: What is it that attracts affluent travellers to Kenya?

Ross Evans: Kenya stands out as a luxury safari destination due to the quality and quantity of wildlife on show.

[...] Kenya being the home of the safari also adds to the attraction as well as the wonderful Kenyan people that host international travellers with such warmth in all sectors.

[...] Many of these camps and lodges are standalone properties which are often family run, so there is an individuality to them which appeals to regular high-end travellers.

In terms of unique offerings, the number and size of Kenya’s national parks offers travellers an incredibly varied safari experience and often visitors may experience two or three different parks in one itinerary.

The temperate weather in Kenya, particularly in the Masai Mara, allows guests to go on game drives throughout the day.

[...] I think the third unique factor is such with many camps and lodges being actively engaged in conservation efforts to protect wildlife and balance the needs of local communities.

[...] Many people have limited time and need the most efficient transport routes to get to and from their destinations.

The new route for people to transfer from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti and vice versa is an example of where better transport links can add significant value to travellers.

I think the most important feature, however, is customisation, affluent travellers are not interested in run of the mill itineraries but are looking for something tailor made for them.

This extends to how they are hosted in camps and lodges, they want a bespoke service where they can do what they want, when they want. [...]

Travel Trade Luxury: What your strategy in supporting the growth of the luxury segment?

Ross Evans: First and foremost, we are making sure our properties are truly five-star.

Hemingways Nairobi opened in 2013 and is now well-established as the premium luxury boutique hotel in East Africa.

[...] We are currently redeveloping our coastal property, Hemingways Watamu, to bring it up to the same standards and level of service as our hotel in Nairobi.

Once completed, it will be the best property on the Kenyan coast and will compete with luxury brands in Zanzibar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

[...] We are also investing in upgrading our camp in Mara which is located within Naboisho Conservancy which was voted Overall Winner at the 2016 African Responsible Tourism Awards.

From a promotion standpoint we are actively engaged in international travel trade shows – [including] representation at We are Africa and Pure – and we are doing sales trips to the US, the UK and China.

In fact, we partnered with two other luxury Kenyan properties, Angama Mara and Segera Retreat, for a sales trip to the US in June where we actively promoted Kenya as a luxury destination.