State-owned electricity generator Geothermal Development Company (GDC) has unveiled plans to build a multi-million health spa at its Menengai geothermal fields, opening up a window for the firm to tap into the expanding tourism market.
The company has invited suitably qualified firms and consortiums to submit Expression of Interest (EOI) to participate in upcoming bidding exercise for feasibility study of a geothermal heat swimming pool and spa complex. EOIs will be accepted until August 18, 2022.
According to GDC Drilling and Infrastructure General Manager Paul Ngugi the natural spa to be modelled on Iceland’s Blue Lagoon Health Spa is expected to significantly boost the number of tourists visiting nearby attractions such as Lake Nakuru National Park, Menengai Crater and Hyrax Hill Prehistoric site among others.
Upon completion the facility will be the second geothermal spa in Kenya after the first one built in the Naivasha Olkaria steam fields by Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen). The latter is also the biggest natural spa in Africa with the capacity to host 500 people at once.
“Blue Lagoon is something we’re looking to replicate at Menengai. One of GDC’s mandates is to promote alternative or “direct” uses of geothermal energy.
We envision geothermal-heated pools and spas here for leisure, recreation, wellness, and eco-tourism. The project will also add a revenue stream to our geothermal sites,” explained Mr Ngugi.
He added that once the spa is operational a reasonable fee just to cover maintenance of the facility would be charged to enhance the uptake of a service by Kenyans who have grown to consider spas, saunas and steam baths a preserve of the rich.
Blue Lagoon is one of the world’s largest and most visited natural spa whose popular products include the silica mud masks and algae masks. The spa, which is located deep in the heart of the Svartsengi Resource Park on the Reykjanes Peninsula, runs on geothermal seawater whose temperatures range between 37 and 39 degrees.
The Menengai geothermal spa is projected to consist of several interconnected lagoons, a sauna and a steam bath. The sauna will be designed to use brine-running water in naked pipes at 150 degrees Celsius and the heat generated raising the temperature of the room designated as the sauna.
The facility is also expected to host a geological and geothermal centre documenting the development of geothermal resources in Kenya as well as progression of global technology for converting steam into economic activities.
Health experts say steam bathing softens the skin, reduces cholesterol and slows down aging.
“Visitors will use steam bath from the hot brine that will be vented into the steam bath enclosure,” added Mr Ngugi
The brine is known to contain antibacterial chemicals that heal skin diseases and rashes.
In Iceland, for instance, the hot water contains minerals like silica and sulphur that are known to help treat skin diseases such as psoriasis.
GDC is optimistic that the facility will ride on the growing popularity of balneology and therapeutic effect of natural spas around the world.
“Our primary goal is to showcase the many uses geothermal resources can be put into. The health spa is expected to bolster Kenya’s decisive entry into non-traditional tourism products,” the Drilling and Infrastructure GM noted.
Industry players welcomed the initiative saying it would help Kenya exploit opportunities in the health segment of tourism.
“New products are always welcome. There are already several hotels offering spas but not to this scale,” said Chairman to Nakuru County Tourism Association Mr David Mwangi.
The global spa industry is growing steadily as people become more health conscious and, with rising incomes, more willing to spend on their well-being.
In Kenya, spas are now a common feature in hotels and resorts offering a wide range of treatments including basic massage, body wraps, scrubs, and specialized treatments including Ayurveda.
Health clubs, including the spa, state-of-the-art gymnasiums and swimming pools are now a vital selling point for the hospitality industry.
Some establishments at the Coast have invested heavily in health tourism facilities and changed their names led by the Sarova Whitesands & Spa Resort and Leopard Beach Resort and Spa.
Whakarewarewa in New Zealand, commonly referred to as the living thermal village, Karlovy Vary thermal mineral springs in the Czech Republic, Hamam in Turkey and Arenal Volcano and Thermal Baths in Costa Rica are also renowned natural spas in the world.
Others are the Lake Hévíz thermal bath in Hungary, El Tatio in Andes, Chile, Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia; Therme Vals in Switzerland and Bad Gleichenberg in Austria.
GDC owns and operates the steam fields in Menengai and has undertaken drilling of a total of 43 wells. Some 105 MW of geothermal power is planned to be generated from this resource.
Independent Power Producer (IPP) Sosian Menengai Geothermal Power has started constructing a 35-Megawatt power plant which is scheduled to start operations by the 1st quarter of 2023.
The IPP alongside Quantum Power East Africa and OrPowerTwenty Two Company had been selected in 2013 through competitive bidding to build, operate and own the first three power plants in Menengai, each generating 35 Mega Watts to pump into the national grid a cumulative 105 Mega Watts.
GDC has also kicked off direct use of geothermal steam to power industrial processes such as milk processing, drying of cereals, laundry work and heating of greenhouses and fishponds.
By Anne Mwale and Charloth Chepkemoi