The Sunset Hotel is not a just hotel. It is also part of the landmark of Kisumu City. It was built in the 1970s and was one of only two luxury, high-end hotels in Kisumu into the 1980s. Ever since it was built to cater to the upper echelons of Kisumu and Kenyan society, the hotel has faced and weathered many numerous challenges. This essay explores the building, evolution, and perseverance of this hotel that is not just a mere hotel but part of the historical landmarks of Kisumu, and Kenya.
The Sunset Hotel is located at the junction of Impala Way and Aput Lane, near the Impala Animal Sanctuary Park in Milimani Estate, Kisumu, Kenya. The hotel may not be one of the most sought-after hotels in Kisumu today like the Acacia Premier Hotel, Sovereign Hotel, The Vic Hotel, or any other such luxury hotels that are also based in Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, but there was a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the halls of this once-grand hotel could not be patronized by anybody other than the crème de la crème of Kenyan society. There was a time when the words “excellence” and “luxury” were synonymous with Sunset Hotel of Kisumu, when only the glitterati could afford to rub shoulders within its hallowed, sanctified halls. The hoi polloi could not even afford to make a glance at the well-manicured, immaculate lawns of the hotel, let alone frolic in its luxurious offerings. During those days in the 1970s and 1980s, the only other hotel that could be spoken of in the same sentence as Sunset Hotel, and that also offered luxurious accommodations, sumptuous meals, and other lavish conveniences for the rich and powerful of the same quality as Sunset Hotel, was the Imperial Hotel located on Achieng’ Oneko Road within the center of Kisumu City.
Sunset Hotel is one of the few luxury hotels that were built in Kisumu after Kenya achieved independence. It is therefore an important part of the history of postcolonial Kisumu. The hotel was built in 1977, a time when the East African Community had just collapsed, and Kenya and its East African neighbors were struggling to grow and prosper. The government and leaders of Kisumu were concerned about the city’s economy and were thinking of ways to stimulate it and make it grow especially after the collapse of the East African Community took away resources and opportunities that had hitherto sustained the local economy.
These leaders and the government consequently decided to build a high-end hotel in the city. They thought that the hotel could help stimulate the local economy by attracting tourists to visit and spend their money on various tourist attractions in Kisumu and its environs. The location of the hotel along the edge of the Impala Animal Sanctuary Park offered the hotel’s clients a greater and easier access to the small but important Impala reserve. The hotel’s clients could visit and see, at close range, animals such as impala that once roamed freely in the Nyanza region.
Apart from visitors and tourists, the leaders of Kisumu and the government also felt that there were rich and powerful government officials who visited Kisumu, the administrative headquarters of Nyanza Province, on a regular basis and who sometimes could not find suitable accommodation for themselves and their families. These leaders and officials therefore identified a need for a high-end hotel since the only other top-level hotel at the time, the Imperial Hotel, was often full, leaving people stranded without proper accommodation. The leaders and government therefore decided to build Sunset Hotel to provide visitors, tourists, and government officials visiting Kisumu with suitable, luxurious accommodation, and in the process, benefit from business opportunities created by the presence of these people.
Built and managed by the Kenyan government, Sunset Hotel was officially opened on November 26, 1977, by Daniel arap Moi who was at the time the Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs of the Republic of Kenya. The hotel started operating amidst great hope that it would stimulate the economy, generate wealth, and bring greater prosperity to Kisumu.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Sunset Hotel was well-known as the place to be for holidays, business, vacations, weddings, honeymoons, conferences, and other activities in Kisumu. The hotel became a by-word for sumptuous meals, luxurious accommodation, and comfortable lifestyle. The establishment of the hotel was a sign that Kisumu and Kenya were ready to become more advanced and play a bigger role in the world economy. For a time it was.
However, the hotel started facing numerous challenges during the 1980s. This was the time the government came under pressure from the IMF and the World Bank to liberalize its economy and privatize its assets such as Sunset Hotel. There were also management problems. The hotel’s revenue dwindled and it could not pay for itself. Services at the hotel went down. The more the services went down, the less people appeared willing to stay at the hotel, reducing the hotel’s revenue further, and thus worsening an already bad situation.
The worst challenge for the survival of the hotel came from the proliferation of many large luxurious hotels in Kisumu such as Acacia Premier Hotel. These hotels have left the once state-of-the-art Sunset Hotel exhausted. Today there are many luxury hotels—more than 20—where people can choose to stay at in Kisumu.
These challenges forced Kisumu leaders and government officials to come up with plans to rescue the Sunset Hotel and restore it to its former glory. Many suggestions were put on the floor, including one that recommended tearing the hotel down, and building a new one, possibly a five-star hotel, in its place. One journalist wrote about one of these plans in the following words: “we are hearing that the hotel [Sunset Hotel] is to be demolished and a new one built” (Kepher Otieno, 2018) to enable it compete with the many larger and newer hotels in Kisumu. The same journalist pointed out that there were plans “for a new one [hotel] since the Sunset Hotel was too out of date” (Kepher Otieno, 2018). However, the plans to tear down the hotel did not materialize. Under pressure from the people in Kisumu opposed to the demolition of the hotel, the leaders and officials of Kisumu settled on renovating rather than tearing down the hotel.
The decision to save the hotel from demolition and instead renovate it was largely made by the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC), a government department, after great pressure from the people of Kisumu. The KTDC, and, therefore the Kenya government, owns 95% of the shares of the hotel, and has a big say on the existence and management of the hotel. The KTDC decided to not destroy the old Sunset Hotel and build a new one, but, rather, to preserve and renovate it “because of the history that this hotel has had with its community and Kenya as well” (Kepher Otieno, 2018). “Sunset,” in the words of kepher Otieno, is one of the oldest tourism facilities in the lakeside town and western Kenya region … it was opened by former President Daniel Arap Moi in the 1970s.” (Otieno, 2018). The decision was therefore to renovate rather than tear down the hotel.
The renovations were aimed at making the hotel more modern, and putting it at the level where it could keep up with the times that we are living in now. These renovations have greatly changed the appearance of the hotel to a “more of a yellow stucco complex look and grey stones” (Sunset Hotel website) The renovations have also provided the hotel with a very comfortable reception area where one is received and served to his or her satisfaction. The reception area boasts of arts and crafts such as paintings and traditional cooking pots that promote the culture of the Luo people who occupy the area in which the hotel is located.
Inside the reception area, there are a few comfortable chairs and an area in which you can check into the hotel. There are a few pictures in the hotel’s reception area including one big picture of Africa hanging on one of the walls. The other painting is actually of another site, the Kit Mikayi, located near Kisumu. Kit Mikayi Rock is a sacred site for people in the region. The reception area of the Sunset Hotel is a small, but comfortable area which is designed to make guests feel comfortable in the hotel.
The hotel provides entertainment via television that one can watch as one waits to be served. The hotel has around 50 rooms that are up to modern standards and offer comfortable accommodation to its clients. The lounge at the back of the hotel provides one with the chance to enjoy a cool breeze from Lake Victoria and watch the dazzling sun as it sets. There is a pool at the back of the hotel that offers once a chance to swim and cool down after a long day. The hotel provides a secure parking lot for guests, as well as an ambulance that can be used to transport guests in case of an emergency. The hotel provides a 24-hour security for its clients around the hotel.
The Sunset Hotel has three different restaurants. One is located on the roof of the hotel, another outside in the gardens, and yet another, which is the main restaurant, is located in the lobby level. The restaurant on the roof, which, as the name indicates, is located on the top floor of the hotel, gives guests a beautiful view of Lake Victoria and the Impala Sanctuary. The restaurant in the gardens is under a roof with no walls, creating an open, airy space that makes diners feel as if they are one with nature in the garden. The main restaurant provides guests with many varieties of food and drinks. There are bars at each of these restaurants and near the swimming pool. The hotel also has a conference room for people to rent out and use for work meetings.
Although the renovations have not placed the Sunset Hotel at the pinnacle of the hospitality industry in Kisumu, or put it on par with the other more glitzy hotels in the city, they have given the hotel a new lease on life. Buoyed by these renovations and patronage from the older, more loyal clientele looking to rekindle and revel in the good old days gone by, the hotel has somewhat been able to grind along and keep afloat.
The Sunset Hotel has had a major impact on Kisumu. From the time it was built, during the time of the collapse of the East African Community and up to today, Sunset Hotel has been a showcase of determination of the people of Kisumu and Kenya to grow and prosper. The local people are a very determined people. When, for example, there were plans to pull down the hotel, it was the people who put their feet down and said a big “No” to the plan. Even though the city would have gotten a newer and bigger hotel, the people knew that the Sunset Hotel was more than about money. It was also part of their history. Many felt it would be wrong to tear down a piece of history. From its luxurious rooms, to its many different restaurants, to even its conference rooms, the Sunset Hotel is part of Kisumu’s history. It has helped to make this city what it is today. Its history also shows how far the city has come to where it is today. At least for now, the Sunset Hotel is here to stay.
Foundation Stones: The picture is the foundation stones of when the Hotel by former president and vice president of the Republic of Kenya Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi in 1977. ~ Photo by Movin Kiprotich, October 19, 2018
Sunset Hotel Sign: A picture of the Sunset Hotel wall with the sign located on it. ~ Photo by Movin Kiprotich, October 19, 2018
Sunset Hotel: This is a picture of the front entrance of the Sunset Hotel. ~ Photo by Movin Kiprotich, October 19, 2018
Sunset Hotel Lounge: The lounge which is located outside gets a nice cool breeze off of Lake Victoria. ~ Photo by Movin Kiprotich, October 19, 2018
Milimani area, Kisumu City Aput Lane Impala Walk, P.O Box 215-40100, Kisumu, Kenya ~ Sunset Hotel is located right next to Impala wildlife Sanctuary to the south. This area is private property and only guests are allowed on the property. ~ http://www.sunsethotel.co.ke/