Do foreign tourists get treated better?

Disappointment greets indigenous visitors to the best venues as white tourists are away

In Summary

• Hotels and restaurants have drastically lowered their services as they have more domestic tourists than foreigners

Angry hotel guest
Angry hotel guest

Do you know the story of how Oprah was refused service in a high-end store? In 2015, Oprah told a story of how she went to Rome and wanted to buy a handbag at the Louis Vuitton store. The employee at the store refused to sell it to her because he believed it was out of her means.

She is the globally renowned mononymous Oprah. The richest black woman on the planet. The Oprah! She was refused service because because of her skin colour.

For some reason, the story has always stayed with me. In my travels, I would always pay extra attention to how I was treated especially in high-end stores. In the end, it became a sort of game that whenever I travelled to places with high-end stores, I would always enter them just to see how I was treated. I would stroll around the likes of Cartier or Gucci, admiring the merchandise while I took note of the customer service and treatment of dark-skinned people.


So far, I have yet to have a bad experience in such stores. However, I have come to deduce from my experiences that the worst customer service I have received is from high-end hotels and restaurants. I have been on the receiving end of some of the rudest serving staff in fine dining establishments.

In one instance, I was stunned when the restaurant manager at a luxurious country club I was staying at in Naivasha actually yelled at me! It was like a nightmarish scene from one of Gordon Ramsey’s cooking shows.

These last couple of weeks, I have been travelling across Kenya with my husband as part of our belated honeymoon tour. Of course, as a proud Kenyan, I wanted him to have lasting impressions of our country. I booked the best hotels, venues, activities… and they have been nothing but disappointments.

In Kenya, it has become quite transparent to see how much better foreigners (or Kenyan Whites) are treated compared to the rest. The worst part is that the people providing these services are native Kenyans themselves. As a rule of thumb, I had decided long ago that I would not tolerate any kind of discrimination or poor service when it came to spending my hard-earned money.

My first day in one of the more affluent tents in the Mara was a complete disaster. I was forced to play the “I want to speak to the manager” card. In my defence, I had spent long hours planning the perfect honeymoon trip, giving instructions and side notes to the reservation consultants. I expected nothing short of magical moments from the time I checked in. When that was not delivered, I firmly informed the management that I would not stand for anything less.

Another resort that I frequent in the coast drastically lowered its services as it had more domestic tourists than foreigners. I had last visited the resort in March, right before the country went into lockdown. It was packed with foreign tourists enjoying the best of sun, sand and services. However, this time around, I witnessed that the clear difference in the quality of service when a hotel has more local tourists than foreign tourists.  

It is unfortunate that we are used to receiving services that are ‘less than’ until we complain. After making formal complaints to the management, I noticed how the staff suddenly got a lot more attentive and the service improved drastically from before.


As a Kenyan, I am disappointed at the poor standards we are forced to bear even though we are currently playing a crucial part in reviving our tourism sector post-Covid-19.

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