The Daily Telegraph - Why you should travel to Kenya now
July 18, 2015

With a blockbuster migration underway, 30 per cent off hotels, new e-visas and empty plains, savvy travellers should head to Kenya.

As the “Great Migration” of East Africa moves north from Tanzania to Kenya, there is unprecedented availability and value for money this year in the lodges and camps of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and its surrounds. Some operators say hotel rates may be 30 per cent lower than usual.

Such deals come on the back of a catalogue of terrorist incidents in Kenya, a country further hurt by Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FO) travel warnings which have focused on the coast. But last month the FO downgraded warnings on some areas including Mombasa, Watamu and Kilifi; that action may help steer the country’s tourism industry towards recovery.

For some it will already be too late. Nigel Vere Nicoll, chief executive of the African Travel & Tourism Association, said an array of operations have been forced to shut shop. "The numbers are staggering,’ he said. "As many as 350,000 Kenyans have been put out of work in the tourism sector." The ebola crisis also compounded problems for Kenya, as travellers turned away from the whole of Africa during that time.

Safari tourism has been hit especially hard despite no terrorist incidents in Kenya’s national parks or game reserves. Will Scott, Africa specialist for Audley Travel said that their bookings are down 40 percent in the country. "There is still availability in the peak months this year, even for the migration," he said. "To have this amount of space and a choice of the better camps is highly unusual. Normally you’d be scrabbling around to find a place to stay."

From now through October, the Maasai Mara Game Reserve will draw up to 2million wildebeest, zebra and antelope in one of the natural world’s great spectacles. In normal times, it would also draw thousands of tourists. "This is the year to book a last-minute trip and get a really good deal,” Scott said. “You can have a landmark safari practically to oneself."

Additionally, guides say that 2015 should be even more dramatic because of late and heavy rains. "The Mara River is full, which means crocodiles will be able to hide more easily from their prey," said Alice Mantaine, a Maasai Mara guide. "There will be some amazing kills at the crossings."

The river crossing sites - where the migratory animals traverse the Mara River while trying to avoid predators - are typically overcrowded with jostling safari vehicles but this year may be different. "2015 is unique,” Scott said. “It’s about the emptiest it has been."

On the ground there is hope that Kenya will bounce back quickly and the country has attracted some bullish investors. Mantaine works at Angama Mara, a new multimillion-pound luxury lodge on the edge of the Maasai Mara with a price tag from £480 per person per night.

"This country is extraordinary," said Nicky Fitzgerald, who is behind the hotel, "and the Maasai Mara is a slam dunk destination." She looked out at the views of the RIft Valley from the property’s terrace, which sits on an escarpment overlooking the Mara Triangle. "This year is stand out for so many reasons. I would pick up the phone, find the best deal and book a trip."

"There really isn’t any better safari destination," said Atta’s Vere Nicoll, "and there is not one single reason why people should not go on safari here."