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Slow start for high tourism season at Coast

Despite the onset of the peak travel period last month, hotels at the Coast are yet to join the party as international guests opt for wildlife safaris

Most hotels in Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi are recording low numbers of guests, as  the majority of international tourists remain holed up in the Masai Mara Game Reserve for the wildebeest migration watch.

By last weekend, most hotels and lodges in the Mara had above 80 per cent occupancy.  Apart from the Mara, reports indicate foreign guests have chosen to spend time in parks such as Amboseli and Tsavo rather than enjoy the white sandy beaches.   

Coast tourism stakeholders are now worried over this year’s bookings as they have received few guests. Hotel managers in Watamu and Malindi in Kilifi county say they are still operating below 50 per cent capacity despite it being a high season.

“Compared to last year, which was an election year, this high season is slightly better since last year we completely had no business at all,” said Ravi Rohra, general manager Watamu Bay Resort.“However, we still have low numbers of foreign guests in our facility, but we still hope that the bookings will improve,” he added.

Ravi said that the number of guests, especially international tourists, is still low compared to high season in previous years. As a result, the resort plans to capitalise more on local markets and conference tourism. “Bringing back the high numbers of international tourist market like it used to be in the previous years is a challenge,” said Ravi.

Phillip Chai, the general manager of Billionaire Beach Resort, said they also have few guests, with bed occupancy at 40 per cent. “The season is young so we expect that the numbers will rise, although the sector is recovering in a very slow manner,” Chai said.

Julius Kitsao, chairman of the Watamu Beach Operators group, added that the industry has been unstable in Malindi and Watamu areas. Hundreds of the beach operators who depend on the international tourists are now desperate.

“Unlike hotels which normally have an option of domestic and conference tourism, beach operators have no business if there are no international tourists. We are forced to engage in other money-making activities such as fishing to earn our daily bread,” Kitsao said.

The situation is the same in Mombasa county, where most of the hotels are still surviving on domestic and conference tourism. Wafula Waswa, marketing manager at Travellers Beach Resort, said they are getting business from parastatals, private firms and non-governmental organisations. “International tourists are very few here,” he said.

Severin Sea Lodge resident manager James Owiti also said most of the guests in his hotel are participating in conferences.

The situation is the same in South Coast, Kwale County. Leopard beach resort’s resident manager Joan Ndung’u said that they are operating at 50 per cent and capacity, adding that the few international guests in their facility are repeat visitors. “Most of tourists have opted to remain in the Mara to watch the wildebeest migration,” she said.

“It seems most of the tourists who have come this time are wildlife enthusiasts, which is why they have remained in the parks. The high season is still on, therefore, we hoteliers in Diani are still optimistic that bookings will improve,” she added

However, Sam Ikwaye, the Coast executive officer Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, has called on the Kenya Tourism Board to be more aggressive in putting up strategies to capitalise on the government incentives so as to attract more international guests.

“There is drought for the international tourists in Coast region, which has affected most of the tourist facilities such as beach resorts, luxury villas and cottages. Even apartments are suffering, so we need serious marketing strategies in the western countries such as United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, China, among others,” Ikwaye said.

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