Tourists are trickling back to Lamu days after the British government withdrew a travel advisory against the picturesque island.
The advisory, which had been in existence for more than five years, came as a result of insecurity from constant terror attacks and kidnapping of tourists by suspected Al Shabaab militias.
Governor Issa Timamy said the British government’s move to have the advisories lifted was timely and a big boost for the tourism sector.
“I am delighted that the British government decided to suspend the travel ban on Manda and Lamu islands. When our tourism sector is picking, it means that our fishermen are able to sell their catch to various hotels in Lamu.
Our farmers too, once the weather improves, will be able to sell their farm produce to the hotels,” Mr Timamy said.
He added that dhow and boat operators, and tour guides also stood to benefit from the revival of tourism. During the just-concluded Lamu Yoga Festival, the town recorded impressive tourist hotel bookings.
“I was impressed that out of the 350 participants, 200 come from some 27 different nations of the world. This is a clear indication that Lamu’s popularity as a long-haul holiday destination of choice is on the mend,” said Timamy.
The governor said improved infrastructure would further open up the area, citing the introduction of direct flights to the town from Nairobi and Mombasa.
Skyward Express Ltd, based in Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, has announced plans to start the first-ever direct flights between Mombasa and Lamu.
County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri said security forces would remain vigilant to ensure that the region was safe for both locals and tourists, adding that tourism formed a crucial pillar of the region’s economy.
And in Kitui County, ongoing projects are expected to open up the tourism sector. County Tourism Executive Peter Nkunda said several tourist attraction sites, among them a reptile park in Mutomo, the Kanyonyoo wildlife sanctuary and bird watching areas in Mutito and Mumoni hills would be revamped. “We have an elaborate plan to make Kitui a tourist destination.
For instance, the reptile park, which is almost complete, will be a regional tourist attraction centre; one of its kind in East and Central Africa,” he said. The reptile park will showcase some of the deadliest snakes in the world that are found in Ukambani.
The county is working with the National Museums of Kenya to craft a 10-year management plan for the park. According to Mr Nkunda, the county is also in the process of establishing an ecotourism centre at the mythical Nzambani rock, said to have magical powers.
Describing tourism in Kitui as a game changer for the county, Nkunda said the sector had a lot of untapped potential ranging from natural to cultural and historical attractions.
Meanwhile, torching of a tourist lodge and cottages in Suyian camp has sent shivers down the spines of conservationists in Laikipia County. They say the trend might cause a nosedive in the region’s tourism sector.
Although no physical attacks have been meted out on tourists, tourism stakeholders and conservationists are worried that if not checked, the situation might lead to massive loses.
Information from commercial ranchers indicates that so far, five camps have closed down: two in Mugie Ranch, one in Laikipia Nature Conservancy, one on Sosian and the latest casualty in Suyian Conservancy. Last weekend, Suyian was attacked by hundreds of armed herders who set on the conservancy’s main lodge and cottages.
The herders also looted from the lodges. The herders escaped into the bushes, carrying with them mattresses and other property.
The invasions have increased in the last few months since the onset of the dry spell, and despite complaints by the local leadership, the migrant herders are still streaming into the locality, causing massive destruction on the habitat which is home to various wild animals, including the Big Five.
Of concern is the invasions of lodges and camps that host thousands of tourists from various parts of the world. Laikipia has about 30 lodges and tourism enterprises. But ranchers have downplayed the effect, saying only about five are affected by the invasions.
According to information posted by Mr Richard Vigne, the Executive Director of Ol Pejeta Conservancy yesterday, Suyian and Mugie ranches are still occupied by hundreds of herders with thousands of livestock. “Suyian Ranch and Mugie Conservancy remain fully occupied by thousands of pastoralists’ cattle.
It is not clear what, if any plan the authorities have to deal with the issues on these two properties in northwestern Laikipia,” Vigne said.
Laikipia County Commissioner Onesmus Musyoki said the ranchers and communities grazing committees are in dialogue to arrest the situation. “We understand that Suyian, which was attacked last weekend has started consultations with the community to strike a deal where they will allow them graze a manageable number of cattle,” said Mr Musyoki.
Musyoki, who spoke after a meeting with Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet however noted that only Mugie, Kivuku and Laikipia Nature Conservancy were under intense attacks. David Tumpes, the Mukogodo East Ward Administrator said the invasions are likely to affect tourism ventures.
Last year, herders believed to be from the neighbouring Isiolo county invaded Il Ngw’esi and Tasia community lodges, which they attacked, killing two workers. However, no tourist was injured during the attack, although it is feared the attacks might repulse visitors heading to the region.
Early this week, the United Kingdom issued a status update on its citizens, an alert which sent fears of an impending travel advisory in case the situation does not improve.
“UK nationals remain free to make their own decisions regarding travel based on the information available,” said Stephen Burns, Head of Communications at the embassy in a statement.
The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) also held a meeting at the Lions Court in Nanyuki, where it exuded confidence that the operations taking place in the invaded ranches will improve the situation.
KTB Chairman Jimi Kariuki, Chief Executive Officer Dr Betty Addero, KTB’s Peter Gacheru and Kenya Tourism Federation official Lucy Karume said Laikipia is among key tourist destinations, as they called for partnership between tourism stakeholders, security agencies and the community.
“We urge stakeholders to engage the security and the community so as to put a halt to such incidences,” said Mr Kariuki.
Laikipia farmers Association, an organisation comprising ranchers and other conservationists released a statement where they noted that reinforcing Laikipia’s security and widening dialogue will avert ruin of Sh4 billion-a-year investments that employ more than 5,000 staff.
Five of Laikipia’s approximately 30 tourism enterprises have closed temporarily, including Suyian. The rest remain fully operational.