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Zebras at Sanctuary Farm.

How to Earn from Tourism in East Africa: Invest in these Digital Opportunities

Tourism contributes immensely to the economy of East African countries. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Report, travel and tourism activities in Kenya accounted for 399,000 employment opportunities in 2016. Indirectly, this industry contributed to over 1m jobs in Kenya. In Tanzania, the report about Tanzania notes, in 2016, travel and tourism contributed to 1,389,000 jobs whether directly or indirectly.

The digital age has increased investment opportunities in the travel and tourism industry. You don’t have to quit your 8 to 5 to make some money from the lucrative tourism industry. Remember, market forces affecting traditional businesses also affect online investments. Therefore, set up your investment and watch it endure all the forces in the market.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Become a host

The world is opening up to personalised accommodation outside hotels and other traditional accommodation facilities. Have you heard about home stay? Well, this buzzword refers to an alternative accommodation service for tourists, in a local’s home. Both the host and the guest benefit from such a set-up. The host earns financially while the guest saves on accommodation and stays in a homely setting.  Popular websites where you can list your room are Homestay and Airbnb.  In some, such as Airbnb, the guest pays the company, a percentage is deducted as commission and you get the rest.

There are of course concerns about the safety of guests and the lack of stringent scrutiny of guests to protect hosts. Other issues raised around the world are by landlords opposed to this business-centred room sharing in residential houses.  Despite these arguments against home stays, this type of accommodation service is flourishing. You will be amazed by the number of rooms for rent listed by East Africans on websites like Airbnb.

You can become a host in any part of East Africa, as long as you have a comfortable room for guests to stay. The room should have sufficient amenities for a goodnight’s sleep. It should be in a secure neighbourhood.

If you live in a one bedroom house, a bedsitter or other small property that cannot host a guest, you can rent another house or apartment and furnish it for your guests.

Creating a profile and listing your room is not a guarantee you will receive guests, but here are some ways to improve your listing.

  • Get reviews. When you host, request every guest to review your property online because positive reviews boost authenticity.
  • Fill out your listing profile to its entirety from pictures to your contact details.
  • Have a cook on call or available to your guests. Some hosts charge room rates inclusive of meals.
  • Undertake all the verification requirements by the website you are listing your room. They might ask for personal details like your email address, ID number and credit card number.
  • Indicate the precise location of your room for rent. For example, if you are offering space in Ngara, Nairobi, the actual coordinates of your room are not Nairobi but Ngara.
  • Indicate whether you are offering a one-time space or it is available anytime.
  • Get quality, current images of your room. Include a photo of the room, the living area, the kitchen, the bathroom and any other facility available to guests.
  • List all the amenities clearly. For example, there is a difference between a room for rent with an en-suite bathroom and one with a shared bathroom.
  • Price your room depending on the amenities provided.

House sitting

Most East Africans living in the city have another house in the rural areas. In Kenya’s slang, we call it ushago or ocha. So, when you leave the city for your rural home, rent out your house to a house sitter. Easter and Christmas are great seasons to make some money from house sitting. There will be someone to watch your house and maintain it while you enjoy your holiday in ocha. When listing your house, on websites like Trusted House Sitters, indicate the duration you will be gone. For example, a house sitter wanted from 12th December – 3rd January.

Become a local guide

Local guides are in demand in major towns as well as in the countryside. For example, a person with training in tourism or with vast experience in tour guiding can join Tours by Locals and offer regular guided tours.

On Tours by Locals, you design packages and itineraries and the company takes care of marketing and revenue collection.  You can offer guided tours of local attractions or offer advice to visitors looking for restaurants to eat while in the city. The former requires extensive professional training in tour guiding.

Sell pictures

Sell your collection of pictures to media and advertising agencies, travel websites and individuals. You can do so online through websites like Shutterstock and Getty Images. You must own the images you want to sell, they should be new (not used elsewhere), and they must be high resolution images. Images of wildlife, buildings and nature are in high demand. Pictures that show actual faces require proof of consent from people in the pictures to avoid lawsuits later.

We cannot all work directly in the travel and tourism industry, but we can make some money from opportunities arising in this sector.


Please note that the examples used on this article are just to give you an idea about investment opportunities in the travel and hospitality industry. I am not endorsing those companies in any way, and you must do your research before taking up their offers.

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flags of eastern africa

32 Historic Hotels in Eastern Africa

The oldest hotels in Eastern Africa were built by white settlers, merchants or by the government. When comparing over 30 of these old hotels, in addition to iconic structures, the location also stands out. Certainly, one of the reasons for the choice of location was the view. For example, Mount Kenya Safari Club is within Mount Kenya, and Grogan’s Castle has a spectacular view of attractions in and around Tsavo Park.

Another lot of the oldest hotels in Eastern Africa are in the main cities. Sarova Stanley is one of them; a historic building basking in Nairobi’s modern skyline. However, it seems that in the 50s, it was also possible to put up a hotel when royals visited. The only problem with hotels that served such purposes is that they aged as soon as the guest left, governments changed and modernism happened. No one budgeted for regular maintenance of such hotels. Hence, the important spot in history of such hotels is not enough to protect them from demolition. For example, Ripon Falls Hotel, a 1950s property built to house Queen Elizabeth when she visited Uganda to inaugurate Owens Falls Dam, is an abandoned, dilapidated hotel about to be brought down.

But, as more famous brands fly in to invest in East Africa’s hospitality industry, countries can at least salvage what is left of historic hotels. Hence, more historic hotels in Kenya and Tanzania are now under the management of brands like Hyatt. For example, Hyatt took over the management of the famous Kili in Tanzania in 2011, from Kempinski Hotels.

Another alternative when there’s no money in coffers to maintain these old hotels is to convert them to this or other office. On the same note, some hotels have been flattened for the construction of sleek skyscrapers.  For example, Meru’s Pig & Whistle was flattened to pave way for a modern complex.  Often times, such changes have met opposition from the public and activists, sometimes leading to tedious court battles to save historical monuments. For instance, activists went to court to demand the protection of the structure of Forodhani Hotel, which was one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania.

There are few to no old hotels within most of the countries’ national parks probably because it was still untamed Africa with thousands of wild species and no gazetted conservancies. That is certainly incomparable to the camps and lodges sprouting in parks and forests now.

But, it’s not doom and gloom yet, so let’s look at the oldest hotels in Eastern Africa. These are hotels that have celebrated a silver jubilee and then some.

  1. Keekorok Lodge – 1962


Keekorok is the oldest lodge in Maasai Mara’s plains.

  1. Lake Naivasha Country Club – 1937


Even in the 1930s, people knew how to splurge. The owners built it lavishly on a 55 acre property, on Lake Naivasha’s shores. In the 1930s, it was often called the Lake Hotel.

  1. Keren Hotel – 1899


It is also known as Albergo Italia.

  1. Hamasien Hotel – 1920


British officers stayed at this hotel during British rule in Eritrea.

  1. Mount Kenya Safari Club – 1938


It was Mawingu House in 1938 before it became Mawingu Hotel in 1939 and Mount Kenya Safari Club in 1959 when it was bought by William Holden.

It was also one of the first properties in Nanyuki.

  1. Grogan Castle Hotel – 1930


This castle’s view of Tsavo, Lake Jipe and other attractions must have been the reason for its location.

  1. Nyali International Beach Hotel – 1946


It is one of the largest hotels in Mombasa, with 173 rooms built on a large beach-front property.

  1. Treetops Lodge – 1932


The Queen stayed at this hotel before her ascent to the throne in the 1950s. This lodge is an old-fashioned tree-house on the outside but a splendid 32 rooms and 3 suites lodge.

  1. Aberdare Country Club – 1937


This country club occupies The Steep, which was the home of an English couple.

  1. The Giraffe Manor – 1932


The Giraffe Manor, where dining with a giraffe happens literary, started as a hunting lodge. Several owners later, a couple bought it to turn it into the lodge it is today.

  1. White Rhino Hotel – 1910


Built for the European settlers, Africans gained entry when it changed ownership in 1970. Change in ownership also grew the number of rooms from 27 rooms to 102 rooms.

  1. Sportsman Arms Hotel – 1950


I doubt whether there is someone who grew up in Nanyuki and doesn’t know Sportsman Arms Hotel. At least most young people born in the 80s may not have walked into this hotel but they must have danced the Sunday evening away at the Buccaneer Club next door.

  1. The Outspan Hotel Nyeri – 1926


Interestingly, the couple that built this hotel bet a bottle of champagne for suggestions of the best name. So, a lady suggested Outspan and the couple liked it.

  1. The Arusha Hotel – 1894


This hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania. From the years of horse drawn carriages to date… Guests through the years have included Baron Von Blixen, Miriam Makeba, and Hollywood’s Will & Jada Smith.

  1. Masindi Hotel – 1923


Masindi Hotel is situated in Masindi, and it was built by the East African Railways & Harbours Company.

  1. Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel – 1904


Just minutes away from Nairobi’s city centre are the 170 rooms & suites, a modern health club, heated pool and several restaurants & bars of Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel.

  1. Sarova Stanley – 1902


Sarova is one of the oldest hotels in Kenya. On its list of affluent guests are Queen Victoria, Picasso and R.A Fessenden. How about that?

  1. Hotel Ambassadeur Nairobi – 1962


This hotel is one of the landmarks in Nairobi. It has 83 rooms & suites all sound-proofed to withstand the noise of the chaotic bus terminals beside it.

  1. Sarova Panafric Hotel – 1965


Panafric Hotel sits on a hill facing Nairobi’s city centre. Did you know it was founded to celebrate pan-African movement? Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo, inaugurated it.

  1. Kampala Speke Hotel – 1925


This hotel has undergone several renovations since the 1920s but its signature structure is still intact. It is named after John Hanning Speke who was the first European to see Lake Victoria.

  1. Grand Imperial Hotel Kampala – 1920


All governors during the colonial period visited the Grand Imperial Hotel.

  1. Ripon Falls Hotel – 1954 (now derelict)


To inaugurate Owens Falls Dam in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth needed accommodation worth her stature, and Jinja didn’t have any, so they put up Ripon Falls Hotel.

  1. Kampala Sheraton Hotel – 1967


Almost every change of government in Uganda has seen a change in name of this hotel.  It began as Apolo Hotel after Apollo Milton Obote who was the country’s Prime Minister, then became Kampala International Hotel during the reign of Idi Amin, and back to Apolo Hotel when the Uganda National Liberation Army. Now leased, it is a Sheraton Hotels and Resorts franchise.

  1. New Africa Hotel – 1906


As one of the oldest hotels in East Africa built over the site of another hotel, New Africa Hotel sits on the site of Hotel Kaiserhof that was one of the oldest hotels in Tanzania.

  1. Hyatt Regency the Kilimanjaro – 1965


It was built in 1965 by the government; most locals call it Kili. Several baptisms later, The Kilimanjaro is now Hyatt Regency The Kilimanjaro, under Hyatt’s management.

  1. Zanzibar Hotel – 1896


It housed the German troops towards the end of 1800s. The earliest record of the name Zanzibar Hotel was in 1902. Zanzibar Hotel has had a change of ownership, and names, through the years.

  1. Ghion Hotel – 1951


The palace of Emperor Haile Selassie I is just next door.

  1. Itegue Taitu Hotel – 1906


The wife of Emperor Menelik II, Taitu Betul, built this hotel.  However, much of the historic hotel burnt down in 2015.

  1. Hotel Muhabura – Between 1954 and 1956


It was known as Hotel Mimosa before its second owner named it Hotel Muhabura in 1968.

  1. Grand Holiday Villa – Late 1800


From businessmen to rulers and royals, this hotel has hosted them all. Previously, it was called the Grand Hotel.

  1. Acropole Hotel Khartoum – 1952


It rose from a 10 room hotel to become one of the top hotels in Sudan. However, the first building was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1988. A new building was set up opposite the previous site.

  1. Selam Hotel – 1937


Declaration of Eritrea’s independence was done at this hotel, in 1991.

Some countries such as Djibouti and Burundi don’t seem to have hotels celebrating a silver jubilee by now (at least that’s what Google databases suggest).

Did I leave out any old hotel in Eastern Africa?


References for this article include the websites of all the properties listed as well as these sources–Dar-s-historic-buildings-get-a-new-lease-/-/1840374/2235648/-/kcsl6dz/-/index.html

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A group of five children walking in the bush.

Let’s End Slum & Orphanage Tours

Some East Africans live on less than a dollar a day. Some live in tin shacks with no running water or a toilet. Some East African children have to live in orphanages because they are orphans or they don’t have immediate family members to take care of them.  Clearly, there’s need to improve the living conditions of the underprivileged in this society. However, slum and orphanage tourism is not the solution.

In orphanage tourism, a tour operator’s itinerary may combine mountain climbing with a visit to a children’s home. Alternatively, a weeklong tour of the country’s national parks may culminate with a visit to children’s home in one of the slums.

During such orphanage tours, the director of the home will take you around, into the dormitories and classrooms. The tour will probably end at the orphanage’s office where you will sign the visitor’s book as you flip through an album with cheerful blowups of the faces of children in the home. Under each picture will be a paragraph or so detailing the depressing rescue story. As you wind up your tour, the director will courteously bring out a list of items the home needs, and explain how you can assist.

Slum tourism is also called poverty tourism. For slum tours, your guide will drive you to the mouth of the clustered shacks from where you will walk gingerly along narrow paths, over open sewers and heaps of decaying rubbish. You will capture the shy faces of children peeping behind torn door curtains, and the close-ups of the brave kids who follow your pack through the slums.

There is no difference between a slum tour and a visit to an animal orphanage. The only differences are you wade through a slum on foot while in a park you are in a tour vehicle, and you can greet children in a slum but you cannot have physical contact with a wild animal.  Don’t you think there is a problem right there? Children are not wild animals. A children’s home is as much of a private sanctuary for children as your house is for you, and it should remain so.

Any tourist, local or foreign, has no business taking pictures of minors to prove philanthropic traits to friends and family members back home. What gets to me the most is seeing the innocent faces of children plastered on social media pages of people the children may never meet again in life and for the purpose of getting the attention of people the children will never meet.

Your friends and family members will still know you had a great time meeting children in East Africa even if you don’t take pictures of minors. Trust me, nobody visits a children’s home and leaves the way they came. Even an hour spent with underprivileged children will have a lasting impact in your life.

You can sponsor a child in a home, or sponsor the whole orphanage regularly, and when you get time, go over to meet the children. Alternatively, carry donations whether financial or otherwise to the home and spend a day with children. Such noble acts do so much more than a planned visit paid to some organization or local guide for a ‘sightseeing’ tour of the situation in children’s homes and slums.

Let us do it right. Let us campaign for volunteering and charity projects and end slum and orphanage tours. Here are a few good ways to give back to the community when you travel, but responsibly.

  • Carry only memories not pictures of children. Etch the smiling, bubbly faces of children in your heart and you will have them with you forever. Carry pictures and they will just be another experience cluttered in the list of places you have been to on your social media pages, or worse, just another GB of files on your hard drive.
  • Most voluntourism opportunities invite foreigners to give back to the community whether as skilled or un-skilled volunteers, at a small fee. Such volunteering packages are inclusive of accommodation and meals for the volunteer. Find these packages, and conduct a thorough research to know the benefits you will bring to the community and who benefits from your money.
  • There are already plenty of pictures of slums on the internet that will tell you the deplorable state of the living quarters. You don’t have to take more yourself, to make the decision to help. Instead, pledge your financial support to registered, authentic organisations with ongoing projects in slums and orphanages.
  • Do not work with companies solely founded to offer slum and orphanage tours because even though you are creating employment for the few in those companies, they may not even be living in that community. If such companies actually benefited the community they take you to, they would have to close shop because there would be no more slums for tourists to visit. Therefore, they must maintain the status quo to stay in business.
  • Plan your holiday through organisations with a clear social responsibility strategy. For example, some tour companies run community schools where you can donate school equipment. Therefore, a percentage of the profits from tourism activities go towards such projects. Your resources should be channeled to children who deserve assistance, and with accountability. This eliminates some tour operators who act as middlemen, and whose relationship with founders of orphanages is corruptible.
  • As opposed to orphanage tours of the residential quarters of children, visit projects that boost income for the under-privileged. Such projects include basket weaving workshops, pottery houses and traditional dance groups. Buys souvenirs from them to support the cause, or participate as a volunteer.
  • To volunteer, you do not have to pay the organisation directly, or stay in the organisation’s premise. Stay in a hotel, or camp within church compounds when visiting remote towns in East Africa, and do community service during the day. You will be amazed at the number of locals who will offer you a bed/camping ground so you can bring your much needed skills to the community.
  • Visit a children’s home not for a tour of the facilities but to interact with the children. If I came to your house, would take me around for me to see how rich or poor you are? A children’s orphanage is a home too; you don’t have to be shown around for your philanthropic nerve to kick in.
  • Saunter down the corridors of dormitories and children will forget you as soon as you sign the visitor’s book. However, when you sponsor a sports day, a prize giving ceremony or other child centered activity, the children will remember you for a lifetime. Isn’t that what you hope to achieve?
  • Make it clear that you do not want a red carpet entrance complete with a dozen of beautifully clad, young ,traditional dancers. Children shouldn’t be asked to entertain guests unless they want to.

Let us make the world better and brighter for everyone, but without exploitative initiatives that add no insignificant value to those in need.

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