Construction of Kenya’s second tourism training institution in Kilifi is set to start soon after money was set aside for the project. Parliament has allocated Sh1.2 billion for construction of the Ronald Ngala Utalii University, which was authorised by the Cabinet in 1996 and 2009.
In 2010, the government allocated Sh300 million towards construction of the training facility. However, breaking ground for the project did not take place. The delay in construction has seen costs jump from an estimated Sh1.9 billion to about Sh8.4 billion after the award of the tender.
The Ministry of Tourism is seeking a private investor to top up funding for the training school that will sit on a 60-acre piece of land in Vipingo.
The Tourism Fund, which will finance part of the development of the complex, has already applied for an environmental impact assessment study from the National Environment Management Authority. The fund was previously known as the Catering and Tourism Development Levy.
Construction will include a 500-room hotel with 16 suites, including six presidential ones, where students can carry out their practical work. The college will also host a training facility, modern kitchens, a sports complex and conference facilities.
The development comes at a time when players in the tourism sector have been pushing for the construction of a training college at the Coast to meet the high demand for personnel. The sector has recently witnessed intense talent wars as investors of top-end hotels scout for qualified personnel to boost standards, especially along the coastline.
Last year, US-based hotel chain Best Western opened shop in Mombasa, seeking to capture the growing market for business and leisure travel in the coastal city. Best Western Plus Creekside Hotel, located at Tudor Creek next to the Nyali Bridge, became the second in Kenya after the opening of Best Western Premier in Nairobi.
The opening of more luxury hotels in Nairobi has also fuelled talent poaching. The Villa Rosa Kempinski, Hemingways and Eka are some of the hotels that were opened recently. New Jersey-based hotel chain Wyndham is also planning to open in Nairobi by the end of this year. In February, officials from the US hotel chain Marriott International came to Kenya in search of skilled staff.
More Kenyans are also headed overseas in search of greener pastures in hotels in Dubai, Qatar and South Africa. At the moment, only the Utalii College offers training and sets standards in the tourism and hospitality industry.
The quest for a second public tourism training facility comes at a time when the tourism sector has been hard hit by travel advisories, which have reduced bed occupancy and led to large numbers of staff being sacked.
The advisories, issued by United States and United Kingdom governments, asked their citizens to avoid parts of the country including the Coast, a major tourist destination, unless for essential travel. This saw UK-based travel agents withdraw their clients citing safety fears.