Why is Kenya so expensive for holidaymakers?

There seems to be a common misconception that Africa is supposed to be a cheap holiday destination, and many are shocked when they get a quote for their safari. This article explores the reasons why Kenya is expensive for travelers and provides some tips to cut your costs while still enjoying your safari.

For decades, the Western media has presented us with images of Africa, of starving children and families living in poverty, barely able to make ends meet. So it makes sense that we would assume that such poor people need to keep the cost of living low in order to survive. Indeed, if you are a subsistence farmer.

One thing that surprises many upon arrival in Nairobi is the level of development. This is not the African village of the World Vision ads – rather it is a large city, the business center of East Africa, comparable to Western metropolises. There is a burgeoning middle class in Kenya, with people going abroad for education and returning to high-paying jobs; they can afford fancy cars, flashy suits and expensive jewelry.

Tourists are more likely to move to the same areas as this middle class than the subsistence farmers in the villages. In this year’s Cost of Living Survey, 13 of the top 50 cities in Africa and 20 are in the top third. Ms. Constantin-Métral explains: “The main driver behind this is the difficulty of finding good, safe accommodation… the limited supply of acceptable accommodation is very expensive. The cost of imported international goods is also high.”

The cost-of-living research focuses more on expatriate spending and may not seem entirely relevant to tourism. What are the costs that make an African safari so expensive? We can start with the costs of getting to Africa: flights and travel insurance. Most insurance companies charge higher premiums for travel to Africa because they (rightly or wrongly) have no confidence in the medical treatment. Instead, they will pay to repatriate you and treat you in your home country.

High national park fees are often the biggest surprise for tourists. The fees go back to the conservation of the park, as Kenya Wildlife Service is constantly battling irresponsible safari operators who insist on off-roading to get better animal sightings. They do this in the belief that they will get bigger tips from their customers, but they don’t stop to think about the damage they are doing to these fragile ecosystems. As a side note, may I request that you rein in your safari driver with regards to keeping the roads and being responsible for their behavior in the parks. As more operators flaunt the rules, the need for more rangers increases, the need for more maintenance increases, and so do park fees.

The costs of fuel and vehicle maintenance also increase the price of a safari. Due to the poor road conditions, regular repairs and maintenance are necessary. Fuel is the same price in most of sub-Saharan Africa as it is in Australia, despite different income levels. If you want to avoid the cost of road transport and fly instead, remember that flights within the African continent are among the most expensive in the world (in dollars per kilometer). There is little competition between African airlines, so the few airlines that do fly can command a premium.

See also  Pig farming in Kenya

Many compare Africa to Asia, somehow comparing the two continents based on their level of development, it is assumed. Finding the $5 hotel rooms of Southeast Asia is not possible in Africa. Paying $80 per person is cheap, $200 is about average, and the sky is the limit if you have cash to spend on lodging. My experience in Kenya leads me to the following theory: the growing middle class is eager to show they’ve “made it” and luxury vacations are a sign of that. Kenyans don’t understand why you would stay in substandard accommodation on your holiday – it’s your holiday and you should enjoy it. Camping is certainly not something the average Kenyan would consider for their holiday. And so the majority of accommodations cater to that attitude.

But it’s not just Kenyans who influence prices. As Africa becomes more politically stable, more and more tourists come to enjoy their safari. For most, it’s a once in a lifetime adventure, and people are willing to pay a premium for it. In addition, care is growing now that we world citizens look after our fellow human beings. We want to make sure that the staff who serve us during our holiday get a fair wage and are not exploited. On the other hand, I am often amazed at how many employees are on deck at hotels, restaurants and even supermarkets. It is excellent that many people are employed as it shares the wealth among many families. But requiring their wages to meet Western standards puts pressure on the company to raise prices. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should encourage companies to exploit their workforce. But we just need to understand that our demands are reflected in our bills.

The best way to reduce your expenses on your African safari is to go local as much as possible. Skip the full board option whenever possible and ask your safari guide to take you to local restaurants instead. Not only does it save you money, it also gives you the opportunity to interact with the culture and directly support the local economy. Stay in local accommodations whenever possible, especially those that give profits back to their communities. If you’re paying more than your budget, at least you can feel good that your money is helping. My only hesitation in going completely local to cut costs is using public transportation. The issues of where to store your luggage, be comfortable and be safe (the drivers are crazy!) far outweigh the cost of hiring a car and driver for your safari.