For many years, beach operators have been looked at as a threat to the growth of tourism in Malindi and Watamu.
The Tourists, tour companies and investors in the hospitality industry have had a perennial war with the young men and women, whose work is to guide tourists and sell some items to them, but with a bigger aim of getting white lovers.
Their presence at the beach has been termed as a threat to security as there have been numerous instances in which tourists have complained of harassment and loss of valuable property, allegedly in the hands of the beach operators.
This is however, set to end as several stakeholders have mooted a plan to transform beach operation and reduce complaints and the discomfort arising from the manner beach operators have been conducting themselves, especially during the tourist high season.
At the fore of the ambitious transformation programme is the Kilifi County Government, which has mobilized stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industry to forge a common ground in the transformation agenda.
At least 200 beach operators, representatives of hoteliers, officials from the Tourism Regulatory Authority, the Kilifi County Government and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as well as the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism, congregated at the Jacaranda Beach in Watamu Thursday to find ways of containing the menace.
After deliberating for a better part of the day, the stakeholders agreed to begin new ventures which will see operations run smoothly with a view to creating room for good business without running counter with the beach youths.
To start with, the Kilifi County Government has ordered all beach operators to be registered by Thursday next week.
The County Executive Committee Member for Tourism, Trade and Cooperative Development, Nahida Athman said those who would not comply with the order will be kicked out of the beaches.
“We have resolved that all beach operators must be registered with the department by August 15, 2019 for them to be allowed to operate. Those who will not comply will be kicked out,” she said.
She added that all registered beach operators will wear distinctive uniform, which will include the Giriama women’s traditional attire known as the hando while men will wear the Mijikenda traditional attire or Maasai shukas so as to promote tourism through their cultures.
“The County Government will get uniforms for beach operators who will use their cultures to promote tourism as they conduct their business,” she said.
The new attire will replace the current ones being worn by the beach operators, which include a white shirt for men and a dark green shirt for women.
“Tourists need a holistic experience from the hotels they stay in to the interaction with local people in order to get to learn the local cultures and many other things,’’ she said.
She said the county government had allocated more than Sh.100 million, which will be availed to registered groups and co-operative societies and told the beach operators to take advantage of the fund to do business instead of idling around on the beaches.
Ms. Athman said her department was constructing tourist markets all over the county so as to create space for beach operators to sell their products instead of loitering on the beaches.
She revealed that one market had already been constructed in Watamu while another would be built in Jacaranda area.
“We shall also train the beach operators on digital marketing of their products using social media which will enable them do business online,” she added.
The CEC member said harassment of tourists would not be condoned as it gives Kenya, and especially the Coast, a bad name.
“The government spends a lot of money to promote tourism and we cannot allow a few individuals to ruin what we are trying to build,” she said.
The Chairperson of the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism, Ms. Kate Mwikali, urged the beach operators to team up and form associations and come up with projects such as those of recycling plastics collected from the beaches so as to benefit from funding.
The Beach operators said they would comply with government directives and vowed not to allow a few individuals to soil reputation.
Hamisi Kombe alias Robby, a beach operator, said they have launched a beach clean-up programme so as to ensure they work in a clean environment and asked the county government to avail trash bins where trash will be dumped.
He also urged the county administration to procure a rescue boat to help in emergencies.
By Emmanuel Masha