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Tourism picks in Lamu despite insecurity crisis

Tourism in Lamu is on the upswing according to stakeholders despite the prevailing insecurity crisis in various parts of the Lamu mainland and losses suffered due to COVID-19 that have also plagued earnings for hoteliers in the last two years

The growing fortunes of tourism in Amu Island could be linked with the lifting of some of the restrictions by President Uhuru Kenyatta in October last year, which offered a welcome reprieve for many hoteliers and travel agents, tourism stakeholders from the global travel ban effects COVID-19.

Despite also reeling from losses suffered from the cancellation of the Lamu Cultural Festival and the Lamu Fishing Festival in December, tourism stakeholders in Amu Island are upbeat that besides the insecurity worries lurking within the mainland area especially during this electioneering period the influx of tourists will continue.

“The Lamu tourism sector is proving to be resilient despite the recent insecurity worries with both domestic and international tourists still flocking to hotels within Amu with bookings in most hotels within Shela recording 90 per cent booking,” Lamu County Chief Officer in charge of Tourism and Trade Atwaa Salim states.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Lamu Tourism Association official and hotelier Fridah Njeri who intimates that most hoteliers at the moment are still riding on December-March high season wave with hopes that the high season would not be affected despite concerns over security within the mainland area.

“Shela Village which is the tourism crown jewel of Lamu, has been well marketed not only in the international scene, but also locally, with the area experiencing a renaissance with the type of tourists now coming in to Lamu being young, Kenyan and well-travelled,” she said.

Lamu CEC in charge of Trade and Tourism Josephat Musembi noted that although tourism was once again on the rise in Lamu, the county was looking to increase its development budget in Trade and Tourism to enable the facelift of Amu Island as World Heritage Site.

The county has a trade and tourism development budget just shy of Sh18 million, despite the county earning more than Sh60 million from the sector

“The county took the difficult decision to cancel the Lamu Cultural Festival and the Lamu Fishing Festival due to the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccine among residents that in case of an outbreak Lamu, could be blacklisted by the tourism community as a COVID-19 blackspot,” Musembi stated.

Tourism stakeholders have intimated that although tourism numbers are up in Lamu the county lost as much as Sh30 million in revenue for both the formal and informal sectors that benefit from the county’s tourism crowning jewel.

However, despite the cancellation of the festivals, the uptake in tourism numbers have been underscored according to Chairman of the Lamu Tourism Association Ghalib Alwy by the rise of domestic tourists in Lamu since the turn of the pandemic last year.

“Domestic tourism has been the boon for our sector especially with the travel restrictions that affected and still continues to affect international travel,” Alwy reiterates, adding that the county is slowly gaining its pre-COVID-19 status as a preferred tourism destination.

“Hoteliers and airlines have had to be innovative while marketing Lamu, especially in carving out a new niche among domestic tourists who would normally have gone outside the country, but now prefer to come to Lamu,” he added.

He adds that hoteliers have had to recall staff who had been laid off during the pandemic due to the expectation that the tourist numbers would continue to grow.

He further commended the county and national government’s efforts to improve its investment on terrestrial wildlife tourism that is expected to spur Lamu’s tourism in the near future.

Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia said that despite the insecurity challenges in certain areas within the Lamu mainland, the national government’s increased investment in area security should solve the challenge posed to introducing terrestrial tourism for which the potential is huge.

“The national government is further looking to bolster Lamu’s tourism sector with cruise tourism being looked into with the operationalization of the Lamu Port earlier this year,” he added.

“There has also been an increase in police presence around the Lamu Archipelago and mainland Lamu especially to ensure that those looking to explore Lamu as a tourism destination are safe,” Macharia stated.

By Amenya Ochieng and Cynthia Lodite

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