And in that time, he told Capital FM Business, things haven’t been as bleak for the hospitality industry at the coast as they have been in the 2013/2014 financial year.
“Even after the 2008 post election violence we could see some light at the end of the tunnel. Now, all we see is darkness but we keep hoping,” he said.
When Capital FM Business caught up with him at the Leopards Beach Resort and Spa, he had just come out of a meeting that was to decide how many rooms they might be forced to shut and how many members of staff they may be forced to lay off should the tide fail to turn.
“In the years I’ve worked here in Diani, seven hotels have been forced to shut down and only two new hotels have come up. What does that tell you?” he posed.
Up the coast, in Malindi, the Managing Director of Ocean Beach Resort and Spa Roberto Marini told Capital FM Business that in the last year, hoteliers in Kilifi County were forced to lay off about 16,000 members of staff.
“We now have seasonal hotels. In the low season they close for up to four months at a time because it’s simply too expensive to stay open. Now tell me what happens to those families those jobs support?” he too posed.
Even the ‘bush’ that should ideally benefit from its close proximity to the ‘beach’ is reeling from the decline in tourist visits to the Kenyan coast.
“Three years ago we used to make approximately Sh50,000 a month from selling paper made from Elephant dung to tourists. Now we’re lucky if we sell paper worth Sh5,000 in a month,” Mesalim Charo of the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary in Kwale testified.
A bleak state of affairs that even the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) acknowledges.
“At one point the coast attracted up to 60 percent of the tourists who flew into Kenya annually. Now it’s attracting only 20 percent and so we have all these hotels with all this room to spare,” KTB Managing Director Muriithi Ndegwa relayed.
The decline in the numbers of visitors to the coast has also caused concern in the Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism with the Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie directing KTB to redouble its efforts at marketing the beach destination to the wider domestic market that is the East African Community.
“I understand where the hoteliers are coming from,” she told Capital FM Business over dinner on the Tamarind Dhow, “and we recognise that up to 85 percent of employment at the coast is generated through tourism but I want to urge them to hang in there. In the next three years, things will turn around. In the meantime we’re looking closer home including Nigeria where I’m headed. ”