Nairobi Hilton Hotel is closing doors after 53 years

Hilton Hotel in Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

After 53 years of operation in Kenya, the Hilton Hotel will close its doors on December 31, 2022. Even if the hotel’s landmark building remains, its sudden split from Hilton will change the dynamic of Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD).

Because Hilton was more than just a hotel. It is a major city landmark alongside the Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC), the National Archives and the Afya Centre.

Cylindrically shaped, the Hilton Hotel towers well above its immediate neighbors, providing one of the easiest reference points for people wishing to give directions or meet. It may also be spanned by Downtown and Uptown, two subsets of the same city as different as night and day. On one side of the Hilton is a bus stop that takes you into the sprawling downtown area, which more often than not teems with activity even in the narrowest of streets. On the other hand, some of the quieter shops are springing up along with even quieter streets and pricier premises.

And while the CBD always boasts some of the best hotels in the country, everyone knows Tom, Dick and Harry Hilton. You either saw it or mentioned it when explaining the directions. With any other name, the building may not look the same. Kenyans content with the status quo might have trouble adjusting to a new name; the building will probably remain a Hilton Hotel for a long time to come.

The Standard understands several staff will lose their jobs following the decision to close the iconic hotel, which has already been told to the Kenya Tourism Board. The five-star hotel began operations in the capital on December 7, 1969 after being opened by then-President Jomo Kenyatta.

A Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) director confirmed to The Standard that the agency had received a communication from the hotel advising it would close at the end of the year. “I can confirm that the Hilton Hotel will be closing in December. We have received the notice. I’m not sure what prompted the decision but I do know shops weren’t looking for the hotel, especially after Covid-19 hit,” the KTB official told The Standard in private. We reached the Hilton Hotel’s Marketing Manager, Maureen Ogolla, for comment, but our calls went unanswered.

Hilton’s other facilities at Hurlingham and Mombasa Road (Garden Inn), which are seven kilometers from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), will continue to operate, the company said in its announcement to KTB.

Some employees who would be laid off following the closure of the Hilton CBD will be taken on by the two remaining Hilton hotel properties.

The Hilton Hotel in the CBD is a five star property with 287 rooms. There are 45 twin rooms, 185 double rooms, 22 pool rooms, 27 executive rooms and seven offer suite service.

It is popular with high-end customers, including diplomats, government officials, and affluent members of society.

Launched in 1969, it became an instant hit with clients traveling to Nairobi for conferences.

However, experts say that the strategic location in the heart of the CBD, which was once its main advantage, has now turned into a disadvantage as the high-end clientele avoids congestion and noise in the CBD.

The hotel is surrounded by a bus station, close to Kencom House, restaurants and nightclubs and the busy National Archives area. Some customers who checked into Hilton multiple times also complained about the lack of adequate parking.

Hilton is proud to be a luxury hotel close to the internationally acclaimed KICC conference facility. “A stay in central Nairobi near KICC. We are located in Nairobi’s CBD, just a few blocks from KICC and the Masai Market. Enjoy city views from our tower rooms and relax in our outdoor pool, spa, steam room and sauna,” says Hilton in his bio. The government has a 40.57 percent stake in Hilton, whose parent company is International Hotels Kenya. The Intercontinental Hotel closed its operations in August 2020. The government owned 33.83 percent of Intercontinental.

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