Stakeholders the tourism: Coast optimistic of tourism revival
Stakeholders in the tourism sector are optimistic this year will see good tidings for the industry following increased charter flights from Europe to Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu.
There is also hope that the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) will intensify its marketing activities in more countries to supplement the traditional source markets.
Hoteliers and investors in the sector say the recent entry of the polish tourists is a clear indication that foreign tourists are still confident of Kenya as a destination.
However, the stakeholders in the region have appealed to foreign governments to stop hurting the country’s economy by failing to lift initial travel advisories barring their citizens from visiting parts of Kenya.
The former chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association, Malindi branch, Asgar Dossanji says although tourism is the lifeline of Malindi, it is facing a grim future.
“Wildlife and beach safaris are no longer interesting to many tourists. This why the State should offer tax reliefs to investors in the industry so that they can invest in marketing campaigns,” he says.
Malindi’s challenge is that despite its high potential in agricultural production, investors only put their money in tourism, hence nearly all income-generating activities in the region focus on the sector.
In the 1990s, tourism led to the occupation of nearly the entire coastline by foreign investors. In the golden days, hotels such as Eden Roc recorded between 70 and 100 guests during the low season while Blue Marlin and Lawfords never used to go below 80 guests.
Italian hotels, which still dominate tourism in Malindi also used to enjoy good bed occupancy even during the low seasons.
Today, the beautiful cottages and villas built during the boom years have been abandoned and some are being used as hideouts by criminals. Petty crimes and abuse of drugs is on the rise in the North Coast due to high youth unemployment.
Several hotels also closed down over the years as arrivals from Europe tumbled to an all time low and bed occupancy fell to unsastainable levels.
Most of the staff who used to work in the sector are now earning a living as hawkers, beach boys or are out on the streets without a source of income.
The collapse of the industry has been blamed on the increase in the number of private cottages and villas owned by foreigners who invite paying guests and book them as family or friends.
Such families stay indoors and are provided with nearly all their needs and hardly ever go out shopping for food, drinks or curios.
Tourists have also complained of harassment by beach operators and hawkers. To curb this menace, the Kilifi county government has been sensiting beach workers on good customer care and the consequences of harrasing visitors.
Meanwhile, the low hotel bookings have also hit agricultural produce suppliers to a point half of the once busy stalls at the Kwajiwa Market have closed down due to lack of business.
Limping too is the construction industry, with some contractors failing to get projects for more than three years.
Hardware shops are not faring any better and have reduced their stocks because even the maintenance business has not been getting any contracts from the hotels.
During low seasons in the past, hoteliers and owners of private houses used to give hardware stores a lot of business in readiness for the high season, but not any more now.
Tour firms and travel agencies have not been spared either and most of their vehicles have been grounded or turned into matatus due to poor business. Also suffering are commercial sex workers.