We are blessed. There is an increase in the number of people visiting the coast, but I suspect this is a temporary event after the Covid lockdowns. People are tired and can’t wait to go out. It’s great for our hotels and our jobs, and we need to find ways to make this permanent.
I had offices at the World Trade Center and there were always exhibits. One day I saw advertisements for a dental show and wondered who would attend a dental show (apologies to my dentist). Out of curiosity, I decided to attend. I walked into the great room and realized that the companies that were renting space to advertise their new equipment and medications were the ones paying for the event, and the fancy speakers were the excuse for dentists to convince their bosses to attend. It was a good excuse for dentists to take a break and go shopping. We should use such exhibitions to create as many excuses as possible for all sectors of industry to come to Mombasa for “conferences and exhibitions”.
Last week, flights to Mombasa were fully booked, mostly by young people who rushed to attend the “This is Africa” music concert. The SGR and the buses were also full. Clearly we should start promoting Mombasa as Kenya’s entertainment capital and work closely with event planners to organize as many events as possible in the city. Zanzibar has two festivals which attract thousands of tourists. One is the Zanzibar International Film Festival and the annual music event called “Sauti Ya Busara”. Music and culture must be promoted.
Our tourism industry is seriously threatened. Most of our hotels were built in the 1980s and there has been very little reinvestment. Most of them look haggard. They are also threatened by Airbnb (a vacation rental company), which has turned many private homes into substitutes for hotel rooms. Airbnbs do not pay taxes and have low overhead costs. A senior hotelier said to me sarcastically that “our tourists are British taxi drivers who just want alcohol and the beach, why give them more?
However, the industry is changing globally and buyers are better informed through social media. Good service gets instant recognition, but bad reviews stick around the walls of the Internet like old, inaccessible election posters. Global competition is intensifying and we need to be more competitive.
There have been good efforts to increase the number of charter flights to Mombasa. Despite the difficult times, we must subsidize and encourage these charter operators to increase the number of international tourists as well as to promote local tourism. This industry is too important and contributes too much to the economy and employment of the coastline, we cannot let it drift and be left to the whims of the policies.
There needs to be closer coordination between county governments and industry, and a good start would be for the tourism minister to report to the governor and an industry board. What do you think the hoteliers?