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Tourists return to Lamu as travel ban is lifted

By Philip Mwakio and Philip Muasya | Published Mon, March 20th 2017 at 13:07, Updated March 20th 2017 at 13:08 GMT +3
Visitors enjoy a boat ride at Lamu Island waters in January, 2017. Tourists are now flocking the Island after travel advisory was lifted. (Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard)

Tourists are trickling back to Lamu days after the British government withdrew a travel advisory against the picturesque island.

The advisory, which had been in existence for more than five years, came as a result of insecurity from constant terror attacks and kidnapping of tourists by suspected Al Shabaab militias.

Governor Issa Timamy said the British government’s move to have the advisories lifted was timely and a big boost for the tourism sector.

“I am delighted that the British government decided to suspend the travel ban on Manda and Lamu islands. When our tourism sector is picking, it means that our fishermen are able to sell their catch to various hotels in Lamu. Our farmers too, once the weather improves, will be able to sell their farm produce to the hotels,” Mr Timamy said.

He added that dhow and boat operators, and tour guides also stood to benefit from the revival of tourism.

During the just-concluded Lamu Yoga Festival, the town recorded impressive tourist hotel bookings.

“I was impressed that out of the 350 participants, 200 come from some 27 different nations of the world. This is a clear indication that Lamu’s popularity as a long-haul holiday destination of choice is on the mend,” said Timamy.

The governor said improved infrastructure would further open up the area, citing the introduction of direct flights to the town from Nairobi and Mombasa.

Skyward Express Ltd, based in Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, has announced plans to start the first-ever direct flights between Mombasa and Lamu.

County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri said security forces would remain vigilant to ensure that the region was safe for both locals and tourists, adding that tourism formed a crucial pillar of the region’s economy.

Reptile park

And in Kitui County, ongoing projects are expected to open up the tourism sector. County Tourism Executive Peter Nkunda said several tourist attraction sites, among them a reptile park in Mutomo, the Kanyonyoo wildlife sanctuary and bird watching areas in Mutito and Mumoni hills would be revamped.

“We have an elaborate plan to make Kitui a tourist destination. For instance, the reptile park, which is almost complete, will be a regional tourist attraction centre; one of its kind in East and Central Africa,” he said.

The reptile park will showcase some of the deadliest snakes in the world that are found in Ukambani. The county is working with the National Museums of Kenya to craft a 10-year management plan for the park. According to Mr Nkunda, the county is also in the process of establishing an ecotourism centre at the mythical Nzambani rock, said to have magical powers.

Describing tourism in Kitui as a game changer for the county, Nkunda said the sector had a lot of untapped potential ranging from natural to cultural and historical attractions.