Why is Kenya so expensive for tourists?

There seems to be a common misperception that Africa should be a cheap holiday destination, and many are surprised when presented with a quote for their safari. This article investigates the reasons why Kenya is expensive for travelers and offers some tips on how to cut your costs and still enjoy your safari.

For decades, the Western media has presented us with images of Africa, showing starving children and families living in poverty, barely able to make ends meet. So it’s logical for us to assume that for those poor people to survive, the cost of living has to be low. Indeed it is, if you are a subsistence farmer.

One thing that surprises many when arriving in Nairobi is the level of development. This is not the African village of World Vision ads, but a big city, the business center of East Africa, similar to Western metropolises. There is a burgeoning middle class in Kenya, with people going abroad to study and returning to well-paying jobs; they can afford nice cars, flashy suits, and expensive jewelry.

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

The Cost of Living Survey focuses more on expat spending and may not seem entirely relevant to tourism. So what are the costs that make an African safari so expensive? We can start with the cost of getting to Africa: flights and travel insurance. Most insurance companies charge higher premiums for traveling to Africa because they have no confidence (for better or worse) in medical treatment. Rather they will pay to repatriate you and treat you in your home country.

High national park fees are usually the biggest surprise for tourists. The fees go back into the conservation of the park, as the Kenya Wildlife Service is constantly battling irresponsible safari operators who insist on driving off-road for better animal sightings. They do so in the belief that they will get better tips from their customers, but they do not consider the damage they cause to these fragile ecosystems. As a side note, may I request that you keep your safari driver in check with regards to staying on 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 therefore park fees also increase.

Fuel and vehicle maintenance costs also drive up the price of a safari. Poor road conditions mean that regular repairs and maintenance are needed. 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 costs of road transport and flying, consider that flights within the African continent are among the most expensive (in dollars per kilometer) in the world. There is little competition among African airlines, so the few that do operate can charge a premium.

Many compare Africa with Asia, in some way comparing the two continents based on their levels 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 average, and the sky is the limit if you have money to spend on lodging. My experience in Kenya leads me to the following theory: the growing middle class is eager to prove that they “made it” and luxury vacations are one sign. Kenyans don’t understand why you would stay in poor accommodation on vacation – it’s your break and you should enjoy it. Camping is definitely not something the average Kenyan would consider for their vacation. And so most accommodations accommodate 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 lot of money for it. Furthermore, there is growing concern as we citizens of the world take care of our fellow man. We want to make sure that the staff who serve us on our holidays are paid fairly and are not exploited. On the other hand, I am often amazed at how many employees there are in hotels, restaurants, and even supermarkets. It is excellent that many people are being employed, since the wealth is distributed among many families. But when we demand that their wages be up to Western standards, it puts pressure on the business to raise prices. Of course, I am not suggesting that we should encourage companies to exploit their staff. But we just need to understand that our demands will be reflected in our bills.

The best way to cut your expenses during your African safari is to go local as much as possible. Skip the full board option whenever practical and ask your safari guide to take you to local restaurants. Not only does it save you money, it gives you the opportunity to interact with the culture and directly help the local economy. Whenever possible, stay in locally owned accommodation, especially those that return profits to your community. At least if you’re paying more than your budget, you can feel good that your money is helping. My only hesitation in going completely local to cut costs is to use public transportation. The hassles of where to store your luggage, staying comfortable, and staying safe (drivers are crazy!) far outweigh the expense of hiring a car and driver for your safari.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *