What hotels at the Coast can do to increase tourist numbers

Team Baba plastic from Swahili Pot are joined by tourists during Plastic Management awareness day walk from Treasury square to Pembe Za Ndovu in Mombasa. May 6, 2023. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Blaming the government for every conceivable ill has become a national pastime. Those willing to take responsibility for their own failures are few and far between. Yet the first step towards fixing a problem is in acknowledging one’s culpability.

Nowhere is this clearer than the situation that obtains with the country’s tourism sector apropos of coastal circuit. A section of tourism leaders has kept pushing for an open skies policy as the panacea to flagging tourist traffic. They claim that allowing all foreign carriers to land at the port city of Mombasa willy-nilly will drive up tourist numbers.

Evidently, these leaders are in their own echo chamber where the blame lies with everyone else but themselves. They will not acknowledge the fact that there is a problem with the product offering. They insist on offering the same old packages when the rest of the world is innovating and adapting to changing times.

Here is some unsolicited advice from an intrepid traveler on what ought to be done. First, modernise the product. Quaint hotels with their rustic look so popular with older clientele should cede to contemporary looks with the latest fixtures and furnishings. This is because the bulk of tourists all over the world are no longer moneyed retirees with nothing to do but an adventurous young demographic who want what is current.

Second, create innovative products that keep up with disruption. Airbnbs have been one of the biggest disruptors of our times. Literally “Air, Bed and Breakfast,” Airbnbs allow travelers to rent a space for multiple people to share, for short - or medium-term stays, from property owners at rates that are far cheaper than the hotel model. Conventional hotels in many countries are now countering this tidal wave by selling entire rooms rather than bed occupancy. For instance, one can travel to South Africa and stay in a hotel room that takes up to three people for the same price.

Third, the coastal circuit needs to package its product either as a premium or a mass market destination. As a premium destination, the hotels and tourist attractions ought to be modernised to reflect the look. It is risible to imagine that some of these facilities, still with their '80s look, can compete with those in Dubai or South Africa. It is possible to create an atmosphere of exclusivity devoid of the harassment of the ubiquitous beach boys. It’s also within the realms of reason to build on the kind of luxury that attracts top-dollar payers.

As a mass market destination, attractions beyond the all-you-can-eat buffets and cheap alcohol should be contemplated. Those alone cannot make for an experience that precipitates repeat customers. How about attractions like a Mombasa festival akin to the Sauti za Busara Festival, a three-day event held in Zanzibar recently with a collaboration of musicians holding all night sessions? Or developing a street food culture where visitors from all over the world can sample coastal cuisine in a highly regulated environment that precludes food poisoning? Certainly, the situation that obtains currently, to wit, selling a mass market package at premium rates is causing tourists to eschew Kenya’s coastal circuit. But will the putative leaders of tourism at the coast listen beyond their tone-deafness?

Mr Khafafa a public policy analyst