Veteran Kenyan hotelier and tourism pioneer Kuldip Sondhi Raj has died at the age of 97.

Sondhi's death was confirmed by his son, Ranjit Sondhi, who said his father will be cremated in Mombasa on Wednesday after his death on Monday morning.

"He died this morning at Reef Hotel facing the gardens he so loved with the Indian Ocean breeze over his body," said Ranjit.

Sondhi played a key role in the development and promotion of tourism in Kenya and especially at the coast and owned Reef Hotel in Mombasa, Reef in Kwale and Pemba Hotels.

Ranjit said Kuldip breathed his last at Reef Hotel but did not reveal what caused his death.


He was born in Lahore, India before moving to Kenya to pioneer the well-known coastal hotels in Mombasa, Kwale and Pemba Island, Tanzania.

Among those who have mourned Sondhi is Tourism CS Najib Balala, who remembered him as his mentor as they worked together to promote coastal tourism, culture and hospitality.

Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) chairman Mohamed Hersi described Sondhi as a man who built the Reef Group of Hotels from scratch and was a firm believer in destination Kenya.

“This is one man who believed in Kenya and fondly talked about it,” Hersi said.

This morning waking up to the sad news of demise of Mzee Kuldip Sondhi. My second father , my father in tourism.


Posted by Mohammed Hersi on Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, Coast branch Executive Officer Dr Sam Ikwaye lauded him as a person who always stood for the good of the hospitality industry.

Kuldip Sondhi, Mwai Kibaki and Mohammed Hersi. PHOTO/COURTESY  

After clearing high school in India, Sondhi went to the US in 1942 to study Aeronautical Engineering and got hired at the Bristol Aeroplane Company in the UK as a design engineer.

He later relocated to Kenya in 1944 after quitting his job to join his parents who had set up a business. He returned to India briefly for work in 1950 but returned to Mombasa in 1951.

He worked in their family businesses and was married to Aase (who is now deceased) and they had a son, Ranjit, and daughter, Sonita, who resides in the UK.

Sondhi established the Reef Hotels Limited in 1971 after sinking in all his savings and later chaired the predecessor of Kenya Coast Tourist Association from 2001 to 2009.

He was also an author and playwright and wrote 12 short stories and 17 plays, including Tides, Beach Access, Room Service and Parlour Games and was one time recognised by BBC.

He was in 2002 nominated as a councilor at the defunct Mombasa Municipal Council and, due to his love for theatre, he was also the Little Theatre Club trustee and ran a charity.