NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 29 – Domestic tourism is spurring Lamu County back to its feet as a key tourist destination in the country.
The region suffered a blow after the Mpeketoni attacks by Al Shabaab militia in 2014 that left over 50 people dead.
The attacks were followed by travel advisories from Key tourist markets for Kenya that include the US, UK and France among others.
“After the attacks about 2,000 people lost their jobs and six hotels had reported they want to shut down, but they didn’t, now they are back and rehiring. We are yet to complete a study to find out if the 2,000 people got their jobs back,” Lamu County Tourism Minister Samia Omar told Capital FM Business.
Omar says domestic tourism to the county grew by 50 percent in 2015 compared to 2014 with the road to full recovery halfway.
“One of the hardest Job I have is to make people forget what happened back in 2014; most people still fear coming here just because of those attacks, When they think about Lamu, they think about those attacks instead of the beautiful places we have, the many islands we have.”
“We are seeing Kenyans coming here for the weekend and going back on Sunday; this trend has also seen us think of repackaging our tourism products to suit these kinds of tourists that include festivals, both religious and cultural to attract more to the county, so far we have about 10 cultural events,” she explained.
Among the events include Lamu Food Festival, Lamu Cultural Festival, Lamu Fishing competition, Lamu Art Festival, Lamu Yoga Festival among others.
These festivals she says, are gaining traction from different enthusiasts, for example The Lamu Cultural Festival has grown from 5,000 participants in 2014 to 15,000 in 2015.
She also said affordable flight fares from low cost carriers have been a major contributing factor to the recovery of Lamu as a great tourist destination.
Among them include low cast carrier Jambojet, which flies daily to and from Nairobi with either outbound or inbound stops in Malindi.
Currently, Jambojet flies the Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 aircraft which carries 78 passengers on the Lamu route.
Since the launch, the total number of passenger travelling to Lamu went up by 71 percent compared to the previous year.
The firm plans to begin another flight in August 2016.
Jambojet on Wednesday opened new offices in Lamu Island that will see passengers to and from Lamu County conveniently book their air tickets on the island.
Speaking during the launch, Jambojet CEO Willem Hondius said the addition of the sales office will go a long way in ensuring that both residents of Lamu County and the tourists who frequent the island are able to conveniently access tickets to Malindi and Nairobi.
“Beyond just enabling our customers to fly affordably, we are keen on offering convenience through our various booking platforms. One should be able to access us on phone, but still be able to reach our teams in case of any travel concerns,” said Hondius.
Last year, the Lamu County Government set aside Sh73 million to revive the tourism sector in the region.
This was a 95 percent increment from the previous fiscal year and was aimed at boosting the sector whose growth bore the brunt of travel advisories from key global source markets.
Lamu is known for its rich fusion of African, Arabic and Indian cultures.
It is the oldest and best-preserved example of Swahili settlement in East Africa with the historical Swahili houses built of coral stone and mangrove timber, with inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors.
Lamu’s narrow streets remain unchanged.
Life around the markets and the square by Lamu Fort move at the same pace it always has.