Flash in the pan? Tourists flock Watamu as high season peaks

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 00:00 |
Fatal attraction: Visitors at Mapango Beach, Watamu. Photo/JASMINE ATIENO

The high season has picked up on a high note in Watamu, with international arrivals jerking up notably.

The beach residence is popular with European settlers and investors in the hotel and tourism business and has maintained a higher number of arrivals compared to Malindi and the rest of the Coast. Watamu is also considered a beach village, with  peaceful surroundings away from the town bustles, unlike Mombasa and Malindi.

Johnson Kalisho, General Manager Sun Palm Resort says the hotel industry was doing badly last year, “But, thank God, this year things have worked well.”

Kalisho says the establishment receives mainly international clients, who account for about 95 per cent of the overall tourist numbers at  the hotel. The resort is operating at 65 per cent occupancy just a month after the low season ended. 

“Last month, we had shut down to renovate the facility, but business has now picked up well. Last month we received about 60 per cent average visitation in the hotel in our 45 rooms. Of all these visitors, 95 per cent are foreign tourists,” he says.

Kalisho is optimistic that by the end of this month, the hotel will be fully occupied given the trend of current bookings.   

However, the drainage system on the road leading to the hotels is messy and when it rains, the road floods, making it difficult for movement of tourists and residents. “I urge the county government of Kilifi to chip in and construct the drainage for the betterment of the tourists and residents,” he says.

Lily and Mapango Beach Resorts investor Ronald Canestrine says his hotels are operating at 100 per cent occupancy and he is looking forward to a booming business this season. However, he wants the county and national governments to do more aggressive marketing since Watamu is a top holiday destination. 

Ronald says Kenya is a safe destination and tourists should not shy away from visiting the North Coast.“There is no reason to worry about safety in Watamu. I feel much safer here than I would feel in my own country back in Italy,” he says.  

“Of course one girl, the volunteer, abducted months ago is yet to be found.  Unless something changes, business is good at LilyPalm. This place and the nearby hotels are fully booked,” he sys. 

The hotelier is also optimistic that by the end of this year, arivals in Watamu will rise. “I will personally be promoting and advertising Watamu,” he says. 

Luca Faenza, a tourist says he and his family are enjoying the holiday in Watamu. It’s his first time to visit the country and already, he is in love with the beach, environment and the people of watamu. He urges his fellow Italians to visit Kenya since it is safe and a great place for holidays.

“My dream has been to say these words…serikali tafadhali! Now I have. I am very happy man to be in watamu. Kenya is beautiful and Sun Palm Resort is a wonderful hotel,” he tells Travelwise
in an interview. 

Meanwhile, business is not looking good for Malindi as more hotels have closed down or been turned into rental apartments. Some hotels are selling some of their rooms to investors.

Business has gone down for several hotels including Coral Key, Eden Rock Hotel, Blue Marine and Tropical Village. Industry sources say Oasis Hotel has been turned into rental apartments.

The low season has also made life much harder for beach boys and girls whose lifestyle is dependent on tourists in Malindi. “The Italians are selling off and leaving, either because of poor business or insecurities.

Some beach operators and residents who were lucky to get Wazungu
(white) partners and left the country must surely be doing much better out there,” says Nelson Juma, a resident of Malindi and a beach boy. 

Juma says beach operators have been forced to find other means of survival such as making and selling curious and jewellery and to act as local tour guides for the local visitors and others from upcountry.

“The girls who did not succeed in getting mzungus are selling vegetables hoping that luck might shine on them next season. Things are not easy,” said Juma. 

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