You may have heard of people who eat in caves and dance among coconut palms on pristine powder-white beaches as if they were celebrating their birthday on a Sunday afternoon in paradise. But did you know that you too can have your wedding soleminised atop a tree to the singing of birds and trumpeting of elephants, and then retire for the honeymoon in a tree house? OGOVA ONDEGO has just been to such a place.
As tourism, Kenya’s third largest foreign income earner is threatened, local airline companies and hotels are making it possible for residents of Kenya to enjoy luxuries thought only possible for the rich and famous. Airkenya, British Airways, Kenya Airways, and hotel chains have teamed up to entice domestic leisure travellers with “all-in-one” travel packages to spice up their lives at the world-famous 480-kilometre long Kenyan coast. If one can afford a return air ticket to Nairobi, one can get accommodation in a hotel of one’s choice. The chosen hotel picks one from the airport and returns one there to catch one’s flight back to Nairobi at the end of one’s visit. These packages are making holidaying simple and “cost effective,” says Anu Vohora, sales manager of Airkenya Aviation. She adds that her company embarked on the concept out of recognition that travel and tourism contribute significantly to growth of economies, investment and job creation.
So how does it work?
All a holidaymaker requires is to call up one’s travel agent and ask to be booked on a flight and a hotel with the package facility. This is particularly suitable for weekend travellers who can leave for the coast on Friday evening and return to Nairobi Monday morning. Once a ticket is purchased, it is valid for 30 days. The package is for two nights half-board; the accommodation rates depend on the class of the hotel but are highly subsidised. Children’s accommodation depends on whether they share a room with adults or use separate rooms. The programme has improved hotel occupancy as it makes it easier for people to travel for leisure to the coast at affordable prices and also enables airlines to operate at capacity. These packages are available for most leading hotel chains, individual clubs and resorts at the coast. Ms Vohora says hotels they are in partnership with are the ones who put together the packages according to their rates.
Introduced at the end of 1999, Vohora says the packages are serving the purpose for which they were set up–boosting local tourism. But why focus on the coast, you may be wondering. The Kenyan coast has for centuries been known as the land of pleasure and recreation. In fact, this has been its status since 110 AD when a Greek explorer, Diogenes, wrote about it and Ptolemy, another of his compatriot, included it in his “Map of the World” forty years later. This coast–extending from Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south–is renowned for its fine beaches, resorts and even-tempered weather that gives it the aura of a paradise on earth. The beaches, lapped by warm water (27-35 degrees centigrade), are protected by coral reef (240 kilometres). Visitors may walk at low tide on this coral reef or sail in glass-bottomed boats as they feast their eyes on colourful star fish, sea urchins, and other under-water worlds. National marine parks to protect marine treasures are found off Shimoni, Mombasa, Watamu, Malindi, and Lamu. The port city of Mombasa, undoubtedly the hub of the Kenyan coast, separates the coast into two: North Coast and South Coast. While the former was developed in the 1940s and its hotels are scattered with a concentration near major towns like Mombasa and Malindi, the latter is developed on the concept of an African village with beaches, discos, casinos and hotels within five minutes of one another.
Most hotels offer similar services, facilities and activities. Although the Kenya Airways package was introduced in 1998, not many holiday-makers are aware of its existence due to poor marketing by the partners. Regional Air, a franchise of British Airways, has recently joined the fray tightening competition and forcing hotels to advertise the packages. This has also brought down fares considerably–to as low as Sh2500– allowing more people to fly instead of traveling by road. The cost of a travel and accommodation package is determined by the class of the hotel partnering up with an airline but it is always almost half of what one would normally pay for accommodation and air travel if booked separately.
Analysts say the concept of packages is bound to boost the economy in the wake of declining international tourism due to growing fears of insecurity in the wake of the suicide bombing of Paradise Hotel and abortive attack on an Israeli passenger jet on November 28. The world travel and tourism sector is worth US$457.8 billion (Sh36 trillion) with an annual growth rate of US$4.5 million. In fact, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) not only estimates that it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world but that the growth will double to US$10 million in the next decade. Hence it should come as no surprise to see airline companies coming up with novel strategies on how to have a bigger slice of this cake. Recently, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe challenged African airlines to get more competitive to help boost economic development on the continent. Addressing representatives of African airlines meeting in Harare for their annual conference, Mugabe was quoted as having urged the pan-African grouping to vigorously counter the developed world’s domination of the aviation industry, saying it must increase interline co-operation and tighten security to improve its international competitiveness.
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WTTC contends that for every eight tourists, one permanent job is created in the host country. Consequently travel and tourism are not just rapid job creators but foreign exchange earners and cultural industry boosters, according to Valli Moosa, the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs. Among them, Airkenya, British Airways and Kenya Airways fly to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kiwayu, Ukunda, and Zanzibar. Saying both the airlines and the hotels have reduced their rates by almost half to boost domestic tourism, Vohora says the packages were introduced “to promote local travel in the face of ailing international tourism.” Justin Tilley, the general manager of Pinewood Village Beach Resort on the South Coast, says many travellers from London prefer to travel by Kenya Airways which enable them to travel around East Africa without having to lose time or pay extra costs. Pinewood, on Galu Beach, is pushing for major airlines from Nairobi to land at Ukunda airstrip save guests the 45 minute drive from Moi International Airport on Mombasa island to the south coast.
Guests at the coast may water ski, windsurf, scuba-dive, goggle, dive, fish, snorkel, and ride camels on the beach. They can also sail to Kisite Marine Park as dolphins play with the boat, or go bird watching. Golf is also available at Nyali Golf Club on the North Coast. Lovers of nature can entertain themselves at the Bamburi Nature Trail. Kipepeo Aquarium has captivating coral gardens, shells and coral fish while the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve is the only place in Kenya where the rare Aders Duiker and the elephant shrew live. Gedi Ruins is an Islamic civilization city which disappeared about three centuries ago. It is now part of the National Museums of Kenya. Lamu is one of the last remnants of the Swahili civilization that dominated the coast before the arrival of the British conquerors.
Life on the South Coast is a little more interesting as it appears to be in line with African life in the village. One may find it more romantic to eat and party in an open-roofed cave known as Ali Barbour’s before going on to dance with a woman at Forty Thieves Club. Should one prefer to cross cultural boundaries, then the place for shaking a leg is Shakatak which attracts a cosmopolitan clientele. One can also try their luck at winning or losing a fortune at Leisure Lodge Casino. But the South Coast never runs out of surprises for visitors. Sitting on stilts and nestling among trees is the Shimba Rainforest Lodge, the only place in East Africa where the sable antelope can be seen. Guests can also see other animals, including elephants, leopards, and monkeys at the waterhole in the moonlight.
This is where weddings can be conducted on a tree as elephants trumpet the marching tune while birds provide the melody and harmony! Nyali Beach Hotel on the North Coast has a colonial charm and relaxed atmosphere with extensive gardens bordering a superb white sandy beach. Opened in December 1946, Nyali Beach was Mombasa’s first ‘proper’ hotel on the mainland. It also hahttp://artmatters.info/wp-admin/post.php?post=498&action=edits accommodation for the disabled. An English style ‘pub’ opens daily from 5pm until midnight. The property even has a full fledged international casino. The travel packages may be a good idea but hotels are not working as a team, regarding one another as rivals. “We should work as a team in marketing Kenya instead of each hotel concentrating on promoting itself,” Tilley says. “We should borrow a leaf from our counterparts in South Africa and Spain who not only work as a team but also market their countries.”
Tilley opines that hoteliers, like other investors in Kenya, should stop expecting the government to market Kenya. “The government should provide infrastructure and an enabling environment while we promote and market Kenya,” he says, adding, “We should target cities like London, Munich, and Barcelona instead of focusing on countries like Britain, Germany, and Spain.”