Tourism in Lamu is on the upswing with the Kenya Airports Authority data showing that so far this year there has been an influx of at least 200,000 international guests into the county despite insecurity fears.
“According to the records the sector has proved resilient especially with insecurity fears in July following the Milihoi attack which was carried out by suspected Al Shabaab agents,” Tourism CEC, Dismas Mwasambu told KNA in an exclusive interview.
Mwasambu added that the tourism sector has been on the rise despite the after effects of travel sanctions that has had an impact on Lamu as a tourist destination in recent years.
“The resurgence of tourism in Lamu is not wholly unexpected since the county government together with other stakeholders in the security sector as well as hoteliers have been at the forefront of giving Lamu’s tourism sector a new face,” he added.
The Tourism CEC further added that the county government had already set aside Shs. 20 million in this financial year towards improving the sector which is still trying to gain its footing once more in the region as a favourable tourist destination.
“The festivals do help in improving Lamu’s tourism sector, but more needs to be done by stakeholders to explore the county’s vast potential especially in the mainland area,” Mwasambu said.
He noted that the county has yet to tap into its game reserves potential in the Lamu mainland area due to insecurity challenges.
The county boasts a rich tapestry of wildlife with game ranging from giraffes, warthogs lions, zebras, ostriches as well as antelopes that can be found Milihoi, Pangani and Sankuri in Lamu East.
The one caveat however, is that these areas are also Al-Shabaab hotspot areas.
“It is still a challenge trying to engage in game drives and Safari companies to bring their business to Lamu, however questions still hang over whether we have tackled the insecurity fears that some tourists have with the mainland area,” the CEC added.
The Lamu County Commissioner (CC), Joseph Kanyiri however, paints a more optimistic picture over the national government’s handling of the insecurity woes that have afflicted Lamu with regards to the tourism sector.
“By lifting the travel advisories, Western countries particularly, England, France and Spain have given the security apparatus in Lamu a thumps up and a commendation that the war on terror is truly being won,” Kanyiri said.
He added that there is no reason for tourism particularly, game and Safari drives not to thrive in Lamu especially with the added security that has been set in place by the national government.
“We need to understand that we have come a long way from when the county was vulnerable to attacks and slow responses due to shortage of security personnel to now that we have security camps set up across Lamu’s mainland areas of Milihoi, Pangani and Ishakani with security personnel numbering close to 4,000,” Kanyiri revealed.
He added that the tourism sector, had further received a boost from the security personnel’s decision to actively patrol the Lamu-Witu Road which is presently under construction.
“Generally, the county’s tourism sector is coming back from the brink, and at least now there are signs of life with a resurgence in tourist numbers in our hotels,” the county commissioner added.
The Romantic Hotels General Manager, Keziah Mumo also intimated that indeed tourism as a sector was coming in from the cold that had seen terrorism attacks across the mainland area threaten the sector.
“The situation was so bad in 2014 after the Mpeketoni attacks, there were virtually no tourists visiting the county,” Mumo narrates.
She added that so far bed occupancy is still at a decent 50 percent with the bulk of tourists expected as the year ends.
“We are expecting more guests especially during the Lamu Cultural festival, however the county government needs to do more by way of investing more in a sector that has sustained the county for years,” the hotelier said.
She added that there is a sense of foreboding as to whether the county can hold onto its status as a World Heritage Site that is presently under threat from what she termed “the winds of modernity”.
“Amu Island is undergoing a transformation, what with the influx of “boda bodas” that threaten the county’ storied use of donkeys as the means of travel, and the soon-to-be-established Amu Power coal plant which threatens the clean air environment in Lamu presently,” she noted.
Separately, Lamu County Governor, Fahim Twaha offers a different take from the hotelier, stating that as much as tourism is an important sector in the county, there is need for Lamu to diversify and develop its potential as an industrial hub.
“Lamu has to start being competitive and catch up with the rest of the country and we cannot rest on our laurels with claims that we are only good for tourism,” Twaha said, adding that the county is ready to embrace mega projects that will turn he county’s prospects.
“We should be willing to invest in other areas as well that will create job opportunities for youths within the county,” the governor reiterated, adding that even if it means decreasing the county’s investment in tourism.
Stakeholders, especially in the hospitality industry have expressed concern that although the county is experiencing a resurgence in tourism the county needs increase its efforts to boost the sector.
By Amenya Ochieng