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February 16, 2019

Game drives edge out beach holidays over security fears

An elephant at Taita hills sanctuary in Tsavo West National park. Photo Raphael Mwadime.
An elephant at Taita hills sanctuary in Tsavo West National park. Photo Raphael Mwadime.

TOURISM trends in the country are taking a different dimension from the traditional beach hotel holidays at the Coast, previously preferred by tourists.

Compared to prior years where over 80 per cent of holiday makers checked in at the Coast, with holiday being all about enjoying the sun, sand and beaches there; most tourists now seem to prefer game lodges and camps in the country’s national parks and game reserves.

This new trend has been spurred by the perceived insecurity at the Coast which has negatively affected the number of international arrivals since late last year.

The situation was worsened by the UK and US among other western countries, which issued advisories in May against travelling to parts of the Kenyan Coast.

The move saw the evacuation of more than 500 tourists, and despite industry players maintaining that the region is safe, the number of arrivals at the Coast has remained minimal.

Hotels in Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu counties which usually enjoy high numbers during the July-April high season, continue to record a bed occupancy of between 50-60 per cent.

Game lodges and camps are however said to be picking up fast with majority of them enjoying bed occupancy of over 80 per cent according to industry players.

This is seen as a game changer as both international tourists and domestic tourists remain uncertain about trips to Mombasa and other coastal towns.

Hotels with lodges and camping facilities are said to have recorded an increase in the numbers of guests.

Among top beneficiaries are Sarova hotel's famous Salt Lick Game Lodge, Taita Hills Game Lodge in Tsavo West and the Sarova Mara Game Camp in Maasai Mara among others.

Bed occupancy at the two facilities in Tsavo-Taita Taveta has shot to 80 per cent compared to 40 per cent same period last year according to the management.

“As far as we are concerned, business is not that bad for us. We are doing very well,” said lodges manager at Taita Hills Willie Mwadilo.

Speaking to the Star at the facility on Sunday, Mwadilo said domestic tourism accounts for 75 per cent of bookings while 25 per cent is attributed to international tourists.

He said most international tourists to Tsavo come from hotels at the coast where they first check in before leaving for the camps and lodges.

Maasai Mara however is served by international tourists who jet into the country through the Jomo Kenyatta international airport, while most domestic tourists are from Nairobi and other regions.

“We get clients from all the hotels at the Coast. We have tour guides at the beach hotels who arrange the bookings. Domestic tourism is however dominated by people from Nairobi and upcountry especially during holidays such as this August,” said Mwadilo.

“We have tailor made events to suit our customer’s needs and we are located at the animal migration corridor between Tsavo East and West, hence attracting a big number of tourists,” he added.

He attributed the high number of domestic tourists to “serious campaign on domestic tourism in Mombasa and Nairobi” which kicked off after a drop in international arrivals.

Mwadilo who is also the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers head for Tsavo -Amboseli region said the lodges have also diversified tourism.

The Tsavo-Amboseli region has about 50 hotels, lodges and camps where guests are now involved in cultural events of communities living around the park.

“We are diversifying our products apart from the traditional game drives. Visitors can now mingle with locals with visits to the villages where they learn their histories and culture," said Mwadilo.

Heritage hotels which has two facilities at Maasai Mara –The Mara Intrepid and Mara explorer has also recorded a good number from international arrivals.

“We are currently over 80 per cent occupied in Mara with majority being international tourists. Our Ziwani camp in Tsavo is also doing well and hope to get better as we continue with marketing our products,” said Heritage CEO Mohammed Hersi.

A number of international tourists are also returnees who have been to the hotels and camps previously.

“Kenya is my second home and I am always happy when I am around here. There are concerns about security at the Coast but I think people react differently. I can move confidently from the hotels to the parks,” said Peterson Kerry, a British tourist who spoke to the Star at Tsavo.

Industry players have however accused the government of “failing to do enough” to salvage tourism at the Coast, which drives the region’s economy and greatly contributes to Kenya’s foreign exchange kitty.

According to the KAHC, the government needs to play a central role in supporting the Kenya Tourism Board to market the country’s vast tourism sector.

“In Vision 2030, tourism was number two. We wonder what is happening when we see the government take funds from the tourism kitty to fund other projects. The way they are doing things is as if there is change of heart,” said Mwadilo.

Tourism players are however doing everything to promote the industry and attract more visitors, in an effort to revive the sector.

In the vast Taita Taveta County where the Tsavo national park is located, players are seeking to promote a new product dubbed “Battlefield Tours”.

The event seeks to trace back about 12 sites in Taita Taveta, where some of the most brutal battles between German and British forces were fought during the World War I.

The product which will be launched officially launched later this month, has already helped hotels and lodges in the Tsavo National Park and Taita Taveta record high bookings of up to 90 per cent.

It is expected to boost tourism in the region with the new initiative raising the number of visitors to the historic Taita Taveta sites.

“We want to make the battle field tours a full tourism product and market it extensively. This will bring change to the traditional game and wildlife attractions. We have a planned strategy of 2014-2018 where we expect a lot of activities,” said Mwadilo.

In Mombasa, industry players recently launched an “inbound insurance cover” which they count on to bring back tourists to the Coastal line.

The product seeks to insure tourists’ whose country fails to provide cover for traveling to the coast region as a result of travel advisories.

UK which is among Kenya’s major international market is the most affected.

The British government is yet to review its advisory issued through the British Foreign and Commonwealth office.

The advisory discourages its citizens from visiting the Coastal stretch from Mtwapa in the North Coast to Tiwi in the South coast and a five-kilometer stretch to the main land, an area that hosts majority of the prestigious hotels at the Coast.

Speaking to the Star on phone yesterday, Hersi who is also the KCTA chairman said the product which includes terrorism exposure cover to visitors, will increase the number of international arrivals.

“We are hopeful we will start receiving visitors now since they are covered. We are targeting all the 100,000 potential clients who visit Kenya and more,” said Hersi.

“We have so many visitors who want to visit Mombasa but their concern has been the cover and this product will provide a solution,” he added.

He said repeat visitors from UK, who had kept off due to lack of travel insurance have started to make inquiries and possible bookings.

The product was launched last month in partnership with the Kenya Coast Tourism Association, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, KAHC and and the Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya.

“We may have security issues but Mombasa and the Coast is not a war zone. I want to tell tourists to come down and enjoy your holidays. ,” said Hersi.

He called on hotels to get in touch with their clientele especially British citizens and the larger Europe to share information on the new cover, to enable them travel to the Kenyan Coast.



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