It’s official – Kenya and the Seychelles have been given the royal seal of approval. With William proposing to Kate in the former and whisking her off for a honeymoon to the latter, the resultant buzz has created a great sales opportunity. And agents can really clean up by marrying both in a twin-centre package that appeals to regular punters as well as the weddings and honeymoons market.
Kenya Airways and UK sales manager Bruce Watson says the airline has seen a significant uptake in Kenya safari and Indian Ocean beach combos. While the Seychelles and Zanzibar are the big two, the airline’s routes to Madagascar, Mozambique and Comoros out of its Nairobi hub throw up other possibilities, and
a Mauritius service will launch in October.
Back in March I accompanied a group of agents on a Kenya Airways fam to the Seychelles and Kenya.
First up was the Seychelles. Having flown from Heathrow to the main island of Mahé via Nairobi, an onward flight got us to Praslin, where one of the highlights of the stay was the excursion to the Vallée de Mai, home to the palm trees that produce the cheekily-shaped Coco-de-Mer nuts.
Home for the first few nights was the Castello Beach Hotel. Pitched as a four-star, but closer to three, the all-suite Castello is a small, slightly quirky place, with 26 suites, a small beach and a small pool.
In a destination renowned for its exclusive hotels it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does have a certain charm, and the separate four-bedroom pool villa works well for groups. It’s also near a golf course, and the keen prices will appeal to some, although with newer, swankier properties such as the Constance Ephelia offering similar rates, and others veering towards all-inclusive packages, it faces stiff competition.
Next up, a night at Beachcomber's The Sainte Anne Resort and Spa. One of the agents on the trip remarked how following a series of staff changes the property had gone downhill and, indeed, it did seem a bit moribund, with guests as absent as the ambience. Small wonder the hotel has chosen to embrace the all-inclusive mantel with a gusto. However, an evening of cocktails on the beach, followed by dinner in the rustic restaurant overlooking it, went down a treat.
Conversely, none of us needed convincing of the saleability of the new Raffles Praslin. Following a tour of the resort’s recently opened first phase, a treatment in the sumptuous spa, and some chilling time in one of the villas, a splendid dinner in the main restaurant sealed the deal.
With its butler-serviced villas staggered on a rocky incline overlooking the ocean it’s a peachy spot. As you’d expect, the villas boast a top-end spec, and the 35-metre pool is the longest in the Indian Ocean, it says. While I did get the feeling of being a bit overlooked in my King Villa, it wasn’t my prevailing thought as I wallowed in the massive plunge pool. It's an adult-focused property, but the childcare facilities and activities cater for all ages.
When it comes to laid-back luxury, Denis Island, our home for the last night, impressed us all effortlessly and its more-fun-than-formal atmosphere went down a storm. We all loved our bungalows, secluded amid the mature foliage.
Whether we were kicking back on our private beaches, taking sunset cocktails on the beach, sinking more cocktails in the bar, sampling the top-notch food, taking a guided tour of the island, or taking snaps of the colony of giant tortoises, the stay was a real highlight.
Having hopped over to Nairobi on a Kenya Airways flight from Mahé, our first destination was The Norfolk – the first of three Fairmont properties we’d spend a night in.
Since taking over this iconic property a few years back, Fairmont has rejigged the public spaces and overhauled the food and beverage offering. The portions in the steakhouse, Tatu, are massive (my crème brûlée was the size of a dinner plate). While the chintzy rooms we stayed in weren’t a big hit, a rolling refurb, due for completion by mid-2012, is underway and the completed rooms we saw were great – more Farrow & Ball chic than ‘granny’s house’.
Next up was my personal favourite: the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. Slap bang on the equator, this timeless classic was once a private safari club run by Hollywood matinée idol William Holden, with a star-studded membership list.
Sitting amid 100 acres of manicured grounds in the shadow of Mount Kenya, the charming 120-room hotel has a relaxed, homely feel, with services such as afternoon tea offering a nod to the past. We stayed in the separate two-bedroom cottages, which share a cosy lounge, and guests can request a fire is lit each evening. These are ideal for families and were a big hit with the agents too. Unfortunately a downpour put paid to our planned horse riding, but the guided tour of the hotel’s wildlife sanctuary went down well.
After a short air transfer – and a spot of dancing with Maasai warriors at the airport for the girls – we reached the Mara Safari Club, Fairmont’s safari camp set-up. Perched over a river, the large terraced area, home to a pool, two massage tents and the outside dining area, offered ample opportunities for spying on the hippos below, while a visit a local village and school, where the agents donated gifts, offered an insight into the Maasai culture.
With the camp’s 50 tents huddled quite close together, privacy is a bit of an issue, and the buffet-style meals were safe if not remarkable, but the property delivers in the key areas. The game drives were good, and such is the abundance of wildlife in the Mara that, much to the delight of the group, we ticked off ‘the big five’ on a couple of drives. And with Fairmont planning to invest in the property, and turn some of the tents into a separate, more exclusive offering, there’s potential for it to become a great, rather than a good, property.
Fam report: What the agents thought
“While the Seychelles was five-star luxury all the way, the Kenyan safari blew me away! The Mara was a fantastic experience.
"I think the twin-centre trip of Seychelles and Kenya is ideal for anyone wanting a mix of luxury, culture and adventure.”
Lisa Ducas, corporate and leisure sales executive, DialAFlight World Options
“The Seychelles truly is a paradise on earth, but to combine it with a magnificent safari in the Masai Mara, or a relaxing stay in one of the beautiful cottages at the base of Mount Kenya, would make it all the more memorable.
“For me, the perfect wedding and honeymoon would be seven days on Denis Island, with a wedding in the little chapel there, followed by a three-day safari at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club and then three days relaxing in the Fairmont Norfolk.”
Lesley Dean, wedding specialist, White Sand Weddings
“Kenya provided some fantastic hotels but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole safari experience – it’s much more for the complete nature lover than your average holidaymaker.
“The Seychelles worked well as an alternative to Mombasa or Zanzibar as a twin-centre option with a safari, although only the amazing Denis Island gave me the taste of paradise I was looking for.”
Chris Connor, travel consultant and sales coach, Thomas Cook Signature/Gold Medal
“I think that Kenya and the Seychelles work really well as a twin-centre. You have the beautiful beaches of the Seychelles, for a nice relaxing time, combined with the excitement of Kenya and a safari.
"The standard of hotels in both was exceptional. The highlight of the trip for me was definitely Denis Island and just feeling the complete remoteness of a private island!"
Darren Cook, sales manager, worldwide, lastminute.com
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