Kenya has some of the best tourism sites from beaches to wildlife safaris (with Masai Mara voted the best game reserve in the 2017 World Travel Awards) and all round good weather, which attracts both local & international tourists. The Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Tourism, Najib Balala notes that tourism stakeholders should consider offering Kenyan-friendly packages to encourage more Kenyans to experience the beauty the country has to offer.
Understanding this gap in the market, young travel enthusiasts Brian Gatimu & Muthuri Kinyamu founded Turnup.Travel. They met in 2016 during a trip to Mombasa to watch Chris Brown perform. The hotels were fully booked and they ended up sharing a room at Voyager Beach Resort. The Nyali sunrise was the key inspiration behind the founding of Turnup.Travel.
What got you interested in Kenyan travel:
We didn’t set out to create a company but to replicate one of our favourite trips together. I’d say ‘Turnup.Travel is a way of life for many millennials and we live the brand consistently’ – “Turnup and Travel”. We saw lots of opportunity in the tourism industry to catalyze innovation and spark some change of narrative.
As explorers we set out to travel and discover then share those moments with our friends – soon enough people joined us on trips and later asked us to design holidays and experiences. We were used to travel for fun but we got a crash course on running a travel business so we’re out here enjoying the ride and making the most out of the 24 hours every day.
And how did you come about with the IG tours?
An IG tour is an outing where Instagram influencers dedicate a full day to tour the city and capture great moments.
Photographers often face challenges shooting and filming in the city and getting necessary permits and licenses was prohibitive. We decided to take the weight out of that by negotiating with relevant stakeholders and creating an environment in which they are free to hone their craft and passion. We also wanted to create a platform for hobbyists and enthusiasts to participate and learn from the experienced and pro photographers.
As participants share their moments online, we also wanted to pursue ways we could redirect some energy from the IG Tours towards impactful things that will help the community. Sustainable tourism and a triple bottom line – fun for our participants, value to sponsors and impact in the local community. IG meet-ups have been around for a while. At Turnup.Travel, we took the concept a notch higher to showcase cities wholesomely – from sights, sounds and the pulse of places and its people, then added activities and a food & beverage experience to it. The 24 hours from dawn to dusk to dawn will give participants a holistic understanding of the city – old and new, vintage and modern, people and places.
What seems to resonate most with the local Kenyan market?
Lipa pole pole – to stagger payments, a deposit and clear the rest a few days to the trip. Others come with cash on the day of the trip and say “take my money” literally!
From exploring hidden gems, camping, backpacking, rock climbing to walking with rhinos in Samburu, lion tracks at Ol Pejeta, catching the wildebeest migration or diving with dolphins in Diani, humpback whale watching and white water rafting. The country has so much more to offer that Kenyans are embracing. Having no time is no longer an excuse.
What are your top 3 Kenyan travel destinations and why?
Brian – Turkana definitely wins it for me. By a mile. Everything about Turkana was so different. From Nariokotome Boy to Central Island to the sand dunes, an amazing beach and the friendliest people, our February trip there was incredible.
Watamu: The islands are an amazing place to meditate and take photos. You are trapped between a sunrise, the islands, and a rainbow behind you.
Masaai Mara: Because it is the first place I ever saw a cheetah. A mother and her three cubs under a tree with no care in the world.
Muthuri – Tough question. I love Turkana Land – it checks your privileges and perceptions, I love places that amaze me with every sunrise, have some history and traditions intact and a charm that gives you that “love at first sight” goosebumps. I love Tsavo for its character and I wish more people would pass by Tsavo on their way to the beach from Mara or Northern Kenya. Takawiri Island too and Chale Islands – let’s go everywhere!
The best part is Tanzania got Mt. Kilimanjaro but we enjoy the views.
What advice do you have for travelers who wish to explore Kenya?
Plan, save and book early! Kenyans are so last minute last minute but I hope more people start to plan their holidays in good time.
- Go against the wave: When everyone is heading to the beach, go for a bush adventure. When there’s migration happening in Mara, you can visit Samburu or Tsavo or Western Kenya etc. Coast is probably not the best idea for a Christmas getaway with family unless you’re one of those ‘Everyone’s going there so let’s go as well’ kinds of travellers.
- See places through the eyes of the locals: It’s a sure way to have lots of aha moments and great memories during your trip. Escape the ‘tourist route’ and be a bit more adventurous. Try their local food, go where locals hangout and do as they do but maybe this is just us.
- Do four trips a year: Solo adventure, go with a group to a place you’ve never been and meet new people, do travel with family or to see them – keeps you connected and then you can add an international trip to explore new cultures and bring those experiences back home.
How has technology changed the way Kenyans travel?
Places are now discoverable and shareable. When people are aware of things to do and see, they get inspired on how to update their travel goals and bucket lists. New exciting destinations are being discovered in unprecedented fashion. Social media platforms have been pivotal in showcasing different lifestyles and it has helped us create a space to give everyone a voice to amplify what they are passionate about.
Secondly, travel has been disrupted by technology – We give rates to someone who’s already checked booking.com, called the hotel, checked a price comparison website, Airbnb for options, homestays and has been checking out places on social media to see what else is new. Kenyans are tech savvy and thus we hope the industry develops some agility to adapt to the shifting preferences and options consumers have at their disposal.
What are your visions for the travel industry in the future?
Kenya is blessed with at least 300 days of sunshine in a year, unrivalled weather patterns, non-seasonal tourism, spectacular world-renowned events and archaeological sites.
People are globally getting more connected and the technology available helps us share our content easier and faster compared to even a decade ago.
One thing you would like to change about travel in Kenya?
Harmonise licensing. We have multiple licenses and permits that are required to shoot, run a business and showcase the country. Perhaps have incentives to draw producers, reduce the prohibitive costs and one federation to represent all.
Kenya Tourism Board needs to develop a framework to tap into the creative potential within and develop some agility towards opportunities to market the country in a new way. We cannot continue doing same expos in traditional source markets year in, year out.
Any interesting concepts we should look out for in the future?
We’ll be rolling out some cruise packages soon, maybe re-introduce steam safaris, perhaps set up a moonlit booze cruise or a hikeathon challenge, who knows. As always, our clients decide and we make it happen.