Revellers flock to the Coast as floods slow wildlife safaris
Harrison Kivisu and Harriet James
All roads lead to the Coast once again this festive season as domestic tourists hesitate to tour national parks following reports of flooded hotels and closure of some water-logged airstrips in the bush.
In Western Kenya, hotel managers are banking on domestic tourists to boost business while the Masai Mara is hopeful of increased British tourist arrivals after general election in that country ended last week.
But while it’s gloom in some upcountry tourism destinations due to flooding, the Coast is experiencing warm weather.
“It’s hot and sunny here, so no worries,” says Athman Juma, reservations manager at Sun and Sand Beach Resort, Kilifi county.
And as the famous Swahili saying goes, Mgeni Njoo, Mwenyeji Apone, the bulk of the bookings are coming from domestic tourists, mostly from Nairobi.
Already, the sunny beaches, entertainment joints, tourist attraction sites, hotels and lodges in South Coast and Mombasa are teeming with revellers.
Tour and travel companies are also busy transporting guests to national parks around the coast and marine centres.
North Coast awakens
In Malindi for example, tourist attraction sites such as Malindi and Watamu marine parks, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Gede Ruins and Mida Creek are witnessing a rising number of visitors. Boat riders at Malindi Marine Park also say business is peaking fast.
Kilifi Bay resort general manager Peter Njoroge says the 110-bed North Coast facility is 65 per cent booked mainly by Kenyans.
“We are doing fairly well despite economic challenges, but we are expecting more bookings before New Year due to year-end events lined up in Kilifi,” he says.
Sairock Beach Resort general manager Robert Kiiri says about 85 per cent of guests have confirmed bookings,but anticipates to hit 100 per cent New Year.
“We are fine though this year is a bit slow; many people do not have money,” said Kiiri.
Kenya Coast Working Group Chairman Hasnain Noorani says the hotel industry is gaining from the absence of political jitters, with an increase in both domestic and regional travel.
“Hotel bookings and occupancies have tremendously increased this December due to a peaceful environment experienced as well as enhanced security,” he says.
“Many Kenyans are also spending their Christmas holidays in Mombasa this year because of easier accessibility owing to convenient transport system by rail,” says Noorani.
Travellers Beach Resort marketing manager Wafula Waswa says the hotel is 75 per cent booked and anticipates hitting 100 per cent long before Christmas day.
“The sector has also not been affected by the collapse of global travel giant, Thomas Cook,” he adds.
Almost £600m (Sh79 billion) worth of holidays were cancelled globally after Thomas Cook failed in September.
“Other agents have come in to fill the gap. The challenge is that many Kenyans are feeling the heat from the hard economic times,” says Waswa.
PrideInn Paradise Beach Resort and Spa, General Manager Ann Peggy said they are expecting bookings to go up to 99 per cent by next week.
Other hotels recording between 80 and 100 per cent bookings are Diani Reef Hotel, Swahili Beach, Leopard Beach resort all at the South Coast.
Flamingo Beach Resort general manager Victor Shitakha says the hotel is 97 per cent occupied but is set to hit 100 per cent by Christmas.
He credits the surge in bookings to the long school holidays, festive season, a rise in budget carriers and the launch of flights by Uganda Airlines to Mombasa.
Meanwhile, airlines are making a kill this season as many people opt to fly instead of using roads for safety purposes.
After the SGR express train service from Nairobi to Mombasa was fully booked from mid-November to early January, buses and air operators took advantage to increase fares.
Mombasa Air managers say they have recorded a high number of travellers seeking to travel to the Mara and the Coast.
“We have experienced no flight cancellations to the Masai Mara; the only worry is when the rivers flood and we have to land in a different airstrip,” says an airline representative.
However, the closure of the flooded airstrip at Amboseli National Park has affected some of their bookings. “We’ve had some cancellations because of that though we are hopeful that things will be better,” she says
For Air Kenya, the Christmas season is the mid-season after they stopped plying the coastal routes. However, the closure of Amboseli airstrip has affected their bookings as well.
“We hope that the airstrip will soon open up for landings,” says Everlyn Chesimet, head of sales and marketing at Airkenya.