Allure of the pristine white beaches of Malindi

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Malindi beach. Photo/PD/Courtesy

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Popular for its tropical beaches and rich history, Malindi is a small town that attracts not only locals, but also international tourists, such as celebrities and tycoons from all over the world.

It is this tranquility that has made it a home to several well established resorts, and many private guesthouses scattered in the area. 

There is a distinctly Italianate imprint on Malindi from the language, the food, the hotels and the casinos, and even the occasional fugitive from justice.

Until 2008, the town was home to about 3,000 Italians who had settled and invested there.

The Italian Embassy even has a resident consul in Malindi. Other Europeans settled in Malindi include Germans and Britons.

For a generation, foreigners searching for the African sun have travelled to Malindi, setting up businesses, holiday homes and permanent residences. 

Among many foreign nationals who arebeen a frequent visitor to Malindi, and who have made news headlines since last week is British supermodel Naomi Campbel after she was appointed by tourism cabinet secretary Najib Balala as the Magical Kenya International ambassador to lift the Kenyan brand. 

Natural tranguil beauty

Campbel’s love for the country, and specifically Malindi was laid bare in 2018 when she last toured Kenya for a working holiday courtesy of British Vogue, against travel advisories to foreign citizens barring them from visiting the county following sporadic attacks and rise in kidnappings by Somali jihadist group, Al-Shabab.

Hell’s Kitchen Marafa canyon in Malindi

“Many people discouraged me from coming to Kenya, saying the country was not yet safe to visit. But, I insisted that I would come; and here I am. I feel quite safe.

I didn’t feel anything different from the way I have felt during my previous visits.

There is tranquillity here. People should not shy away from visiting Kenya. Life in Kenya is natural and beautiful,” she told a local daily at the time.

However, over the years, the influx of foreigners whose contribution to tourism and the economy cannot be overstated, has been plagued by various challenges.

The number of guests thronging Malindi has reduced drastically since 2011.

The numerous terrorism attacks between 2011 and 2017and the 2017 post-election violence resulted in a shrink in international arrivals to the region. 

The problem has further been aggravated by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic early last year, also bringing tourism to its knees and leaving the hoteliers and many residents who rely on tourism to earn a living in despair.  

In the posh Casuarina area, many properties, hotels, luxurious villas have been either closed or sold and investors flown back to their countries due to this pandemic.

Only a few establishments have managed to stand the test of time amidst challenging times.

“If you look at Malindi town, the average hotel has between 30 to 40 rooms. 

There are maybe 119,895 people living here based on the last census and they all rely on the hotels to survive.

We must refurbish the hotels and market the destination to bring more tourists,” says Plan International hotel Malindi general manager Alex Zissimatos.

Zissimatos, who has been in the country and particularly in Malindi for the past three years feels that the region has much to offer despite it being the last choice when it comes to coastal destinations.  

Some of the attractions in Malindi that forigners seem to fal in love with and inspire their desire to stay include activities such as scuba diving, deep sea fishing, the sand dunes at Mambrui, as well as tours to the museums among other hostoric sites.

There is also a spectacular 44 acre golf course at Vipingo Ridge Golf Course and for those who are game drive lovers, Tsavo is just an hour and a half from Malindi.

“We have some of the world’s renowned celebrities coming for game fishing.

There is also whale watching here and despite the fact that people often say that it belongs to Watamu it’s not true.

Maybe it’s because Watamu marketed it better despite the coastlines being just 10 minutes apart with a speed boat,” says Zissimatos. 

Another destination is the Hell’s Kitchen depression in Marafa village in the town. ‘During the day, the canyon goes 45 to 50 degrees thus its name.

The place was formed as a result soil erosion in the 17th century,” says Reuben Kadze, a local guide.

Last year, Kenya Tourism Board in collaboration with the Kenya Coast Tourism Association launched the Kenya Coast Tourism brand identity to reposition the coast as the destination of choice.

While Zissimatos welcomes the move, he hopes that the impact of the initiative will be felt in the entire coast and not in one region.

“I do hope that the spirit of this brand identity campaign will be balanced equally along the coast and that each region will have the same opportunity for funding, advertising and development and growth,” he says.

Campbel’s appointment

Meanwhile, the sector players have weighed in on Campbel’s appointment, which was received with approval and outrage in equal measure.

Those opposing her new role say a better choice would have been a Kenyan personality with international presence. 

However, those who leapt to her defence said the successful model of colour with African roots resonates well with our target audience and she has been experiencing the country for years. 

On the other hand the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers at the coast, Dr Sam Ikwaye argues that the challenges facing Kenya’s tourism industry are well known and no influencer or brand ambassador can wipe them away.

“While Naomi has been a regular visitor to Kenya and to be specific Malindi, that has really not  provided a solutions to near collapse of the hospitality sector in the region due to insecurity issues that started before the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is more that needs to be done in the industry apart from great public relations,” he explains, adding “We need great strategic thinking and policy framework that will reposition Kenya as a competitive destination in the international space.” 

Currently, the Vasco da Gama pillar in the resort town is undergoing renovations and has a new look with the new Waterfront Urban Renewal and Recreation Park.

Apart from the Malindi waterfront urban renewal project, the county is also completing key roads to Mtangani and Absa Mtangani, which are almost complete.

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