Win for tourism as big UK tour firms plan Kenya return

By: PAUL REDFERN

Three major British tour operators are due to restart bookings to Kenyan beach resorts beginning September, bringing welcome relief to a beleaguered sector which has seen a sharp drop in tourist numbers over the last two years.

The tour operators – Kuoni, Somak and First Choice – took the decision to resume holidays to the Kenyan coast following a change of advice from the UK Government’s Foreign Office which indicated that it was no longer dangerous to visit hotels north and south of Mombasa.

Some travel operators will still not be travelling to Malindi while Lamu remains a no-go area for travel operators.

A spokeswoman for Kuoni told the Sunday Nation that it was “great news” that the company would now be able to offer both safari and beach holidays from October.

Somak also confirmed to the Sunday Nation that it was restarting its beach holiday bookings but First Choice had not replied to inquiries at the time of going to press.

Another tour operator, Hayes and Jarvis, has continued to offer some beach and safari bookings and is continuing to do so on its website.

Most tour operators stopped running holidays to most of Kenya’s coast when the Foreign Office in London cautioned against it.

Kenya’s High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Lazarus Amayo, welcomed the news at the Kenya Society’s annual get together at the High Commissioner’s residence in London last week.

He noted that in spite of the advisory, UK tourists still made up the largest body of visitors to Kenya.

The news will not only be welcome to Kenyan hoteliers and locals dependent on tourist beach trade but also to other travellers who will no longer be stuck with the only option of flying from London to Nairobi on expensive British or Kenya Airways flights.

Tour operators have also welcomed the steps the Kenyan Government has taken to make the coast safer for tourists.

These include a more visible security presence and measures taken to involve local curio sellers and other small business operators in protecting the tourist trade.

In his role as chairman of the Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA), Mohammed Hersi, has set up customer service and security training courses for beach traders.

“There’s no more ‘them’ and ‘us’,” he told the Telegraph newspaper in the UK.

“The curio sellers, masseurs and safari sellers are valuable extra eyes and ears on the beach and in the local community.”

The KCTA has so far trained more than 500 of these beach operators (the term “beach boy” is no longer used) and it seems to be paying off in many ways.

The Telegraph report praised the changes that had taken place on the coast both in terms of security and hassling of tourists on the beach.

“There was a level of politeness on the beach that wasn’t there before,” the report said.

“The beach itself was a lot cleaner: the flotsam and jetsam dumped on Kenya’s beaches in summer by the Indian Ocean monsoon had been cleared up, even on stretches where there are no hotels.”

Among the hotels which will benefit from the new Kuoni bookings are the Voyager Beach Resort, the Serena Beach Resort & Spa, the Baobab Beach Resort & Spa and Kole Kole, the Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa, the Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa, the Leopard Beach Resort & Spa and Pinewood Beach Resort & Spa.

The UK and the US issued travel warnings to their citizens following a number of terror attacks in Kenya, creating a negative effect on Kenya’s tourism sector.

Tourist arrivals declined sharply after the 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack.

The Kenyan military has been on an offensive against the Shabaab in recent months and has reported progress in destroying a number of their terror cells.

The Kenyan Interior Ministry recently lifted a curfew it had previously imposed on Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Tana River counties following terror attacks.

The curfews were lifted following a directive from President Uhuru Kenyatta at the beginning of the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadhan.

President Kenyatta also directed the Central Bank of Kenya to immediately issue comprehensive regulations that guide the operation of Money Remittance Providers saying that the suspension of licences for 13 registered providers would be lifted thereafter.

The directives served as a positive sign that the security situation had already improved even as US President Barack Obama prepared to visit.

His visit boosted Kenya’s image and he also referred to the possibility of reviewing the advice issued to tourists to indicate some areas like game parks may be safe to visit.

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero recently led a number of businessmen in reopening the Westgate Mall, which had been closed for two years since the attack that left more than 60 people dead.