Resumption of Jambojet flights to Lamu is a positive sign that the county’s fortunes as a premier tourist destination are on the upswing following improved security, revamped infrastructure and growing investor confidence in the coastal county.
The low cost carrier in 2016 ceased operating flights to Lamu, over what the airline management said were delays in completion of expansion works at the Lamu Airport.
Manda Airport has been upgraded by the national government at a cost of Sh190 million that entailed reconstruction of the apron and the expansion of the runway from two kilometres to 2.4 kilometres.
The renovation works currently stand at 70 per cent with Kenya Airports Authority officials intimating it will be completed by the end of November this year.
According to Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala who spoke during the relaunch of the low cost carrier at Manda Airstrip, the resumption of Jambojet flights to Lamu signals the revival of tourism in Lamu that had declined because of insecurity caused by Al-Shabaab attacks in the past and impact of the disruption in tourism caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The resumption of Jambojet flights around the coming of the December-March tourism high season is cause for celebration, especially with the impact that Covid-19 has had on the tourism sector,” Balala stated and added that the impact that Covid-19 on international and domestic air travel had led to a decline in tourism in the country.
The CS further noted that the national government had taken deliberate steps to improve transport infrastructure across the country despite the debilitating impact that Covid-19 had left on the economy.
“Investors in tourism sector, are taking note of Lamu as a favourable tourism destination, especially among youthful domestic travelers,” the CS stated, adding that there is growing buzz among tourists over Lamu being more than just a world heritage site, but also having huge potential for nature and wildlife tourism.
“Apart from tourists coming to enjoy the allure of island sand beaches and Swahili heritage, there are efforts to set up and gazette the Dodori National Reserve on the Lamu mainland side,” the CS revealed, adding that four years ago talk of setting up such a reserve was unfathomable.
Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia has also maintained that improved security in the county has contributed to the revival of tourism despite the challenges presented by Covid-19.
“The national government has invested both in personnel and resources towards safeguarding the tourism industry and Lamu Port project investments against the threat of terrorism and insecurity,” Macharia said, adding that the current tourism regeneration in the county owes its foundation to the security agencies.
The administrator further stated that tourism in Lamu can only grow even more if foreign countries lift travel advisories, which he said are still a hurdle in the way of the county achieving its potential as a favourable tourist destination.
“Every tourism stakeholder in the country understands the importance that Magical Kenya places towards marketing Lamu as an exotic travel destination, and the rewards are already there to see with more tourist numbers in the county on the rise,” Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr Betty Addero added.
Tourist numbers in Lamu have steadily increased despite the effects of Covid-19 to other tourist destinations in the country, with hoteliers reporting as high as 90 per cent bed occupancy this year alone.
“It is not lost on us as the county government, that Lamu gained tourist numbers at the expense of much preferred destinations like Mombasa and Diani, which have suffered throughout the pandemic,” Lamu Governor Fahim Twaha reiterated.
Twaha further said that the county government plans to invest as much as Sh45 million in training conservancy scouts who will work in the Dodori National Reserve to cement the county’s tourism portfolio.
Lamu Tourist Association Vice Chairman Fridah Njagi on her part urged the government to support the sector by lifting the ban on festivals across the country.
“Lamu has built itself as being the Island of Festivals, which are currently on hold due to the pandemic,” she said and added that the revival of tourism in Lamu hinges on all the stakeholders being able to be innovative and have the initiative of supporting the sector’s growth.
She said that apart from the improved security in Lamu, the county government’s support measures towards the sector have been far and few in between with more support needed to fully revive the sector.
In 2020 the county government set aside only Sh12 million towards its tourism development budget.
Lamu’s Tourism CEC Josphat Musembi however stated that, plans are underway for the County to work with hoteliers and tourism sector players to ensure that the sector takes advantage of the current wave of goodwill especially by domestic tourists and sails towards improving tourism in Lamu.
By Amenya Ochieng