Thousands of local, foreign tourists throng Lamu for cultural festival

By: GALGALO BOCHA

More than 20,000 visitors from across the globe have thronged Lamu archipelago for the 15th Lamu Cultural festival that kicked off on Thursday.

The arrival of both domestic and international tourists has caused accommodation crisis within the island and Shella seaside tourist town.

Lamu Governor Issa Timamy said some of the visitors have opted to seek accommodation on the mainland towns of Mokowe, Hindi and Mpeketoni, some 40 kilometers.

His sentiments were echoed by Lamu Tourism Association vice chairman, Mr Ghalib Alwy who said they have recorded the highest numbers of festivals goers since the event’s inception in 2001.

“The desire and energy of our main partners and unwavering support of the county government sent out a loud message that together we can overcome all adversity and indeed the response is such overwhelming,” he said.

Mr Alwy who is also the proprietor of Bush Garden seafront restaurant said due to huge turn out some of the visitors who had booked at his facility had to be directed to other facilities.

“I believe this turn up will have a positive impact on the image of this destination and we call upon our international partners to rescind travel advisories in order to support growth of the industry,” he added.

Ms Kenziah Mumbi, Romantic Hotel Group Kenya Limited manager, also expressed her delight due to fully booking of their Lamu based hotels mainly by international visitors.

“People have started gaining confidence with Lamu. Last year we laid down half of our staff but now I am recalling all of them because we are almost the way we were before the attack. Like now, all of my guests are international,” added Ms Mumbi.

Mr Timamy said the massive arrival of guests has also boosted small traders who are overwhelmed with huge demands especially boat operators and fishermen.

He attributed such turn out to improved security after last year’s June-July Al Shabaab attacks on the mainland areas of Hindi, Mpeketoni and Witu.

“I am thrilled with the way the visitors have turned up for this year’s festival. Indeed they have sent a strong signal that Lamu is safe,” he said when he opened Takaful Insurance firm’s Lamu branch offices.

Mr Timamy added: “This has also been exhibited by how the cultural event is trending on twitter. Of the top ten trends in Kenya; the cultural festival is number five while Pope Francis’ visit is number six,” he said.

Uasin Gishu Governor Alex Tanui and his Elgeiyo Marakwet counterpart Mr Jackson Mandago were also in attendance with their families.

Mr Tanui called on other Counties to introduce such festivals since they assist in improving the economy of such regions and also help in boosting national integration.

Other dignitaries who have graced the event include Omani Deputy Ambassador. French and Spanish ambassadors were also expected to arrive on Lamu Island on Friday.

Mr Timamy also confirmed that Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala will arrive on Saturday with Senior Ministry Officials and meet local tourism players who have been pushing for aggressive marketing of Lamu as a unique tourism destination.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION