• The hotel is undergoing Sh1 billion renovation courtesy of Concord Group of Hotels
• It is set to open its doors in June after 1997 shutdown due to inter-communal clashes
In 1997, the southern part of the Coast region was rocked with violence after local politicians allegedly called for natives to eject non-locals. This culminated in inter-communal fighting that came to be known as the Kaya Bombo clashes.
The conflict not only affected Likoni but also parts of Kwale, which was used as a training ground. Many people were killed while others were left with scars, which remind them of what happened more than 20 years ago.
Francis Mtawali escaped unscathed, but he suffered consequences of the attacks. Mtawali, who used to work as a maintenance worker at the Shelly Beach Hotel, was laid off after the hotel’s closure. He was among 700 staff and non-staff members sent home after the owner of the hotel shut down due to lack of tourists.
Mtawali said when the clashes erupted, some hotel guests revelling at a nearby entertainment joint were attacked by the Kaya Bombo fighters, who had been training at a forest in Kwale.
“The attackers ambushed Shallon Club, now called Sharks Club, while armed with pangas. This scared the hell out of many tourists," he said.
As a result, many guests vowed never to come back to Shelly Beach Hotel, while some of the guests cancelled their stay. This led to the tumbling of the business, causing major losses that pushed the owner out of business.
Most guests who frequented the hotel were tourists from the UK, Italy and Germany. The hotel also had the privilege of hosting soldiers from the UK whenever they came to the country.
Its closure not only affected those employed at the facility but also the businesses around it. The hotel was surrounded by several cottages, which would accommodate surplus guests. However, these were also shut down for failure to sustain themselves.
But 22 years later, under the new leadership of Concord Group of Hotels, the once-luxurious hotel is set to open its doors again in June. The facility is currently undergoing a major renovation to give it a facelift.
We are targeting Mama Ngina Drive, which is also being refurbished. Once it is complete, we will be the nearest hotel, sitting just opposite itConcord director Mohammed Idris
EYES ON MAMA NGINA DRIVE
Concord director Mohammed Idris said the company has set aside Sh1 billion for a total makeover.
He said the first phase of the hotel will be operational by June. It includes the restaurant, swimming pool, bar and 36 rooms. Two other phases will be complete before the end of the year.
“We are targeting Mama Ngina Drive, which is also being refurbished. Once it is complete, we will be the nearest hotel, sitting just opposite it," he said.
The hotel can be accessed from Mama Ngina Drive using a boat or through the ferry channel, which is less than 15 minutes’ drive.
They will have an added advantage as tour vans at the Likoni ferry channel are allowed to jump queues while ferrying guests, which has shortened the time guests use at the channel.
The road leading to the hotel is well tarmacked. The safety at the facility is also guaranteed, as the hotel borders some of the elite estates in Likoni, which are heavily guarded.
Once the entire hotel is complete, the facility will have accommodation of 600-800 guests. The directors are keen on preserving the original architectural design, which gives the hotel some uniqueness.
The hotel was among first hotels in Mombasa. It was constructed in 1942 but underwent a facelift in the 1990s. Despite being abandoned for more than two decades, the structures have remained strong after it was given a clean bill of health by engineers and architects.
“We will maintain the same design because we want to maintain the early 90s' taste, and we will only alter a few things," he said.
The hotel is also set to benefit hundreds of Likoni residents, with the director saying they intend to employ more than 500 people as staff.
“The facility will give locals first priority in terms of employment, and we have already done that because most of those doing the construction are from nearby communities," he said.
The group are also owners of Concord and Cloud hotels in Nairobi, as well as Bahari Dhow in Diani.
But why did it take so long for them to reopen the facility, having bought it in 2000? Some residents claim the hotel had for the longest time been used as a ritual centre by witches.
Ali Juma said a huge tree at the middle of the facility was used as a ritual pulpit, and the witches could not allow the reopening of the facility since it could have destroyed their spot.
“Witches would offer their sacrifices under that tree and plant some things around it. Many tried to destroy it but failed, and that is why the property remained closed," Juma said.
To deal with the superstitions, Idris said they opted to burn it down with petrol before chopping it. “We do not believe in superstitions, but we heard the claims and had to act on them," he said.
The investor said the delayed reopening was really caused by the fact that the family was new in the hotel business, and so it had to do a proper feasibility study before diving into the trade.
“Hospitality was not our line of business. Therefore, we had to plan before venturing into it. But we are now ready to return the dignity of Shelly Beach Hotel,” he said.
The hotel also plans to incorporate sports tourism as a way of attracting more guests, especially locals.
The hotel will also have a gym facility and an extra ground, where they can hold concerts. The owners further plan to construct a mall just a few metres from the hotel.
“There is no supermarket around, and Likoni residents have to cross to town or go to Ukunda. We want to bring these services nearer," Idris said.
The return of the hotel will awaken the area and maybe expedite the construction Dongo-Kundu bypass.
The revival also comes at a time when Kenya Ferry Services are set to begin their cable car transport system. This will by itself be a tourist attraction, being the first one in Africa. A hotel just a few minutes away will come as an added advantage.