Kenya offering up some tasty travel this summer...Sofitel improving by shrinking.
Had a chance to catch up with some folks from Kenya tourism, who were in Toronto on Tuesday.
Kimutai Ngeno, assistant p.r. manager for the Kenya Tourist Board, told me they're putting an emphasis on romance travel, not surprising given the hype about how Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton on a Kenya trip, reportedly staying at the Fairmont Mt. Kenya resort.
"We have properties where you can do a safari in a hot-air balloon," he said, and how cool does that sound?
There's been a solid expansion in hotels across Kenya, from safari spots to Nairobi, he said. They're also building more places where folks can feed inquisitive giraffes from their hotel window.
Traditionally, he said the best times for seeing wildlife in Kenya were from September to November. But patterns have changed and now July and August also are seen as great months to watch wildebeests crash through the Mara River or to see other animals in action.
He said April and December tend to be rather wet months and don't make for the best viewing.
I met with folks from the Lake Nakuru Lodge, which emphasizes the thousands of pink flamingoes that flock to the shallow lake. They also have black and white rhinos in the area, and wild dogs, as well as some lions and giraffes; pretty much everything except elephants and cheetahs, I was told.
John Maisano of African Quest Safaris said he made 23 trips to Africa to see wildlife before he retired from his previous job and took up with the safari company.
Maisano said he was happy enough at home after his retirement but his wife felt differently.
"She said 'I married you for better or for worse, not for lunch,' so I hooked up with these guys."
Maisano said his company is cheaper than many and offers great tours all over Kenya and Tanzania. In Lakipia, he said folks can do horseback or camel tours and also can ride in a two-seater, open-cockpit plane or even go white-water rafting in season.
Maisano said he recommends Masai Mara over Mt. Kenya or other parks in Kenya. "The Serengeti is nice but it's huge. The Mara has the rivers and it's much smaller."
SOFITEL IMPROVES BY CUTTING NUMBERS
Also had a chance to sit down with the folks from the France-based Sofitel hotel chain, who were in town for a meeting of the worldwide concierge group Les Clefs d'Or (more about that in tomorrow's Toronto Star Travel section). They had 206 Sofitel hotels a few years ago, all over the world, but have since downsized to 120 and repositioned all properties as first-class hotels.
The 80-plus hotels that are no longer Sofitel properties were nice, but the chain lacked consistency, officials said.
The idea is to take all existing Sofitel properties and give them French flair and French style while remaining true to local roots and traditions. It sounds like a winning combination. I mean, everyone wants a great cup of coffee in the morning and an excellent croissant, not to mention French toiletries and that certain French style in the rooms or the lobby.
Robert Gaymer-Jones, chief executive officer of Sofitel worldwide, said the group has taken off but is not quite yet at cruising altitude. Still, I read a story this morning about how luxury brands around the world are doing better these days, thanks in part to the Chinese spending habits, so it might be a good time coming up for Sofitel.
In addition to the regular Sofitel properties, they are opening more Sofitel So hotels, which are a boutique or arty style. The next one is Bangkok and they also are looking at Mumbai and various European capitals. They would love one in Paris, of course.
The only Sofitel we have in Canada is in Montreal. They had been looking at the Yonge and Bloor condo project for a Sofitel Toronto, but that plan fell through.
Gaymer-Jones said he would love to see Sofitels in Toronto and Vancouver.
Sofitel is part of the Accor Group, which is enormous around the world and in North America to a lesser extent. Accor controls not only Sofitel but Novotel, which is well represented in Toronto, plus Mercure, Ibis, Pullman, Formula 1, Etap, All Seasons, and, yes, Motel 6. An interesting array of properties, for sure.