Growing challenges beset Kenya’s coastal tourism industry


(Posted 07th July 2014)

The challenges are mounting for Kenya’s tourism fraternity to put on a brave face to yet more reports of killings in the wider Lamu County, where in a spate of attacks dozens of people were killed in recent weeks, the latest incidents taking place on Saturday night. While reactions were predictably swift to once again point out, that the affected area is not visited by tourists, news of a Russian visitor to Mombasa’s Fort Jesus being shot and killed on Sunday morning only adds to the woes the sector faces, in particular at the Kenya coast where occupancies are in the words of one regular source ‘absolutely demoralizing’. A statistic seen yesterday with a snapshot picture suggests that the main coastal resorts presently have an average occupancy of less than 30 percent with several individual resort occupancies below 20 percent, raising questions how and if the affected hotels will be able to survive the season should business not take a significant upswing in the short and medium term. The words of the manager of one of Nairobi’s top hotels paint a stark picture: ‘Break-even point in every hotel is slightly different but regardless, if average occupancy remains below break-even for any longer period of time, it will deplete the cash reserves. It drives up costly overdrafts if this is even an option the banks may still grant. Eventually it may lead to defaults in payments because the cash simply is no longer there. Hotel accountants then face the prospect what to pay, electricity or salaries, taxes due or suppliers. But sooner rather than later, that property will face foreclosure when either electricity is turned off, water is turned off or the tax authority comes to lock the premises. Unless the owners find the funds to subsidize the operation this is the likely outcome of operating below break-even, and who has that amount of cash readily available these days? After all, the problem has been there for a while now for our coast resorts’.

While Mombasa police is reportedly treating the shooting as a ‘regular crime’ will the two companions who escaped with their lives, family, relatives and friends of the dead women care a whole lot less about the way this is being explained now, the key issue being that a tourist was shot while on an excursion to one of Kenya’s World Heritage Sites.

To be honest, if we still think we can explain all of that away we are starting to delude ourselves. Where was security at Fort Jesus or that part of the old town. Where is the promised counter offensive in Lamu County where the problems just go on and on. When I hear that for the planned demonstration by the opposition in Nairobi tomorrow (07th July, aptly named in Kiswahili Saba Saba or Seven / Seven) some 10.000 police have been drafted into the capital, of course there is not enough left then to deploy in other places, reducing boots on the ground and the results are clear. We have very fundamental issues to solve here in Kenya and until those issues have been sorted out will tourism suffer the consequences. We are caught in the cross fire sort of. Mentioning Lamu county so often in connection with what is going on there of course will have an effect on visitor numbers to Lamu itself. And the travel advice about Mombasa was confirmed today as valid even if some of us are still trying to sound upbeat. It is just one piece of bad news after the next’ said another source in a phone conversation Sunday afternoon while discussing claims by Al Shabab that they were responsible for the Saturday attack in Lamu county while the Kenyan government clings on to their isolated notion that local politics were responsible for these killing sprees.

The death of the Russian tourist was immediately picked up by the international print and electronic media leaving efforts to court the Russian market with fresh challenges.

While tourists have by and large not come to harm in Kenya has this incident also shown that they are not immune either against violent crime and that whether the motive was criminal as in a robbery or political as in terror related incidents, the outcome sadly remains the same.

A representative of a Western European tour operator in Mombasa added on condition of anonymity: ‘We need to review security measures again. This might just have been an attempted mugging gone horribly wrong but the fatal outcome will have an effect on business. It is no longer business as usual and all eyes are on Nairobi what is happening with the opposition demonstrations on Monday. We appreciate it is their right in a democratic society to demonstrate but the question is also if it is the right step to take in a political climate which is so highly charged. Kenya as a destination has so much going for it but right now, all the good is overshadowed by the bad news which we constantly get. Explaining these things to our head office is getting harder by the day’.

No statement was available at the time of uploading this report from either the Kenya Tourism Board or other official government sources in charge of the tourism sector about the two developments over the weekend but when such a statement is received it will be published here immediately.

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