The department of Tourist Police Unit (TPU) in Watamu, Malindi district has launched a programme to place officers along the beaches in a bid to contain harassment and intimidation of tourists by beach boys.
This follows complaints by managers of hotels in the area that their guests were subjected to hassle and harassment by beach operators.
Led by Blue Bay Village General Manager Mr Walter Kondik, the managers said hundreds of beach boys had descended on the area beaches as the tourist high season improved.
This caused a threat to the industry, they said. At least two officers are on duty daily along the Blue Bay Village beachfront which is said to be the most affected.
They accused the Government of ignoring the menace for a long time , fact that had earned Kenya bad reputation abroad.
“The single most serious challenge to tourism at the Coast today is harassment of tourists by the beach boys,” said a statement from the managers.
They said beaches in Diani in the South Coast, Mombasa and the North Coast, particularly in Malindi and Watamu had been infiltrated by beach boys who overwhelmed the understaffed TPU.
“You find, for example, an 80 meter stretch beach at Blue Bay Village invaded by more than 200 beach boys and mothers with small babies. Apart from selling all manner of wares, they block the tourists from accessing the water for a swim and denying them a peaceful holiday,” said the statement.
The problem was compounded by the high number of school drop outs, majority of whom ended up becoming beach boys.
“Our bed occupancy will keep on falling every year if this problem is not solved because the tourists take back home this negative information,” said the managers.
A project started more than 15 years ago by then Tourism minister Mr Nicholas Biwott was abandoned. The beach operators were vetted then issued with uniforms, badges and licences.
Another programme announced by the Minister for Tourism, Mr Najib Balala, to relocate beach boys to beach access roads received opposition from some leaders and seems to have fizzled out.
“Before marketing the destination, the Kenya Tourist Board and all other agents must first put our house in order so that when the guests come, they are not disappointed,” the managers suggested, adding that the ministry was capable of resolving the matter “with the political will”.