Coastal resorts in Kenya decry low occupancies amid calls for more aggressive marketing


(Posted 02nd September 2013)

South coast hoteliers are pondering their next move, after the August occupancies have remained depressed across the board and hard decision now need to be made by some resorts where occupancies are even further below average. August is ordinarily part of the high season, when the European school holidays are in full swing, but compared with 2011, the last year when Kenya tourism still went full steam ahead and achieved record breaking results vis a vis revenues and arrivals, occupancies at the South Coast are now down to a mere 35 percent, according to a regular source, taking the data from some 20 resorts, while two years ago this figure stood at 63 percent.

Key stakeholders attribute the drop to the past government’s failure to counter negative publicity and anti travel advisories, when the writing was on the wall as early as October and November last year. ‘That was the time action was needed to go and show flag in our key markets. What the minister at the time however did was strutting about and talking of equaling the 2011 results, which we knew even then was a lot of hog wash. That was the time to invest in marketing, in giving incentives to airlines to fly to Kenya, to fly directly to Mombasa. Instead, Qatar Airways got the long end of the stick and withdrew plans to fly to the coast via Dar es Salaam. Brussels Airlines had planned a flight and shelved it too. 1Time from South Africa withdrew and then went bust altogether. Air Berlin gave notice to withdraw. The arrival of Turkish was not enough to make up for those losses of charters and planned new flights and today, in August 2013, we simply do not have enough flights to bring in the clients to fill our beds. KTB now needs to work on recovery marketing instead of having been facilitated last year and early this year with funds to go out and blitz the markets. Instead, the minister started his pointless fights with KTB and that too had an impact on their ability to be on the spot. That said, a blame game is not sorting out our challenges. We need more airlines, scheduled airlines to fly to the coast from abroad. We need more charters to come back to Mombasa. Right now there is a big reduction in air traffic to Mombasa and we have to start by finding airlines willing to fly and tour operators ready to back them up with seat guarantees. In Egypt right now there is an exodus taking place even from Sharm el Sheikh. I am not saying we decampaign our brothers there but at least we can tell the tour operators that we in Mombasa are ready to step up and accommodate those tourists who have cancelled their Egypt plans. Perhaps we can persuade them to come to Kenya’ said a regular Mombasa based source when discussing the downturn in tourist numbers.

Meanwhile have the Kenya Tourism Board also been consulting with hoteliers and other stakeholders to define ways and means to counter this worrying trend, more so as word is now out that at least one resort at Diani will be closing down soon as a result of not being able to generate enough revenue to stay open.

Other observations shared with this correspondent also speak of the urgent need to review the products offered at Kenya’s coastal resorts, where a handful of innovative resorts are doing reasonably well, both South and North of Mombasa while most others reportedly continue to do the ‘same old same old’ as one other source put it like ’20 years ago when you were still here at the coast’.

Notably has only one brand new larger resort opened in recent years, the Swahili Beach Hotel, while according to information some 7 resorts remain closed, or else average occupancies might be even lower. Yet, in stark contrast have the owners of the Leopard Beach Resort and Spa spent significant capital to launch their ‘Residences’ later this year, with some 28 2 and 3 bedroom villas adding more capacity, confident that their market appeal will help them to actually fill them sufficiently to generate a decent RoI.

Meanwhile though are tourism stakeholders putting their heads together with government to ensure that the sector can be revived and that the projected figures of arrivals, as expressed by both President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto can be achieved, as the form an integral part of their economic programme for double digit growth during their first term of office. Next big stop for global tourism promotion will be the World Travel Market in London but there are several other trade fairs and opportunities to showcase Kenya as a leading beach and safari destination until then which KTB and the private sector are now eyeing with the view to either exhibit or participate in. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Eastern Africa’s tourism industry.

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