Hotels at the Kenyan Coast are increasingly losing to Zanzibar international visitors who arrive by charter flights.
Following terrorism attacks which hit the country in 2014, a large number of tourists chose the Tanzanian archipelago and have since been making return visits giving Diani, Malindi and Watamu a wide berth.
Likewise, during the Likoni clashes in 1997, some hotel owners in the region relocated their investments to Zanzibar and in its wake repeat guests also shifted their holidays to the island.
Other factors believed to have given Zanzibar an edge is that the island has modern hotels while standards in most facilities at the Coast have degenerated due to lack of renovations. Some were built almost a half a century ago.
Although it is currently high tourist season, most hotels across the region have a low number of international guests at below 10 per cent compared to numbers of between 20 and 50 per cent in the peak period of 2011.
Somak Travel General Manager Paul Kurgat, said the majority of the international tourists flown to Mombasa by charter airlines are on transit to Zanzibar.
“One of the factors which have contributed to low number of international tourists at the Coast is that the charter airlines leave behind a few passengers in Mombasa while many are taken to Zanzibar,” he said.
As a result, he said many hotels at the Coast have a low number of international guests.
Currently, charter flights from Europe to Mombasa are eight a week compared with 40 in the same period during the peak period of 2011.
Charter airlines operating flights to Mombasa are German’s Condor, Small Planet from Poland as well as Meridiana Fly and Neosair from Italy.
When Condor reintroduced flights from Munich to Mombasa in June, the inauguration flight had 240 passengers, out of whom only 90 remained in Mombasa while the rest were on transit to Zanzibar.
Due to terrorism, Condor crew who used to stay in Mombasa over the years relocated to Zanzibar.
They, however, switched their stay back to Mombasa last year after the UK and the US authorities lifted travel advisories against Mombasa and other coastal towns.
In an interview with Smart Company, Mr Kurgat said many tourists, who arrive at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa, by charter flights head to Zanzibar for leisure.
He said Nairobi and upcountry tourist hotspots were not affected as many international airlines operate scheduled flights to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
To address the challenge, Mr Kurgat said Kenya should continue to convince leading tour operators and agents in overseas markets that the country is safe.
Severin Sea Lodge resident manager James Owiti conceded that the bulk of the tourists who arrive at the local airport by charter flights are making a stopover to the neighbouring country.
“We have occupancy of 65 per cent, but foreign guests are only five per cent owing to the large number of charter passengers being flown to Zanzibar,” he said.
On the other hand, Kenya Association of Hotelkeeper and Caterers (KAHC) Coast executive officer Sam Ikwaye attributed the shift of tourists to some investors who relocated from Diani, Malindi and Watamu to Tanzania.
“During the Likoni clashes in 1997 there are some investors who left South Coast for Zanzibar and as a result the guests, who used to come here, also relocated there,” he said.
Another factor that makes Zanzibar comparatively more attractive is its new hotels.
“Zanzibar has gained popularity since most of the hotels there are new while here we have some hotels which were built many years ago and are in dire need of upgrading,” said Mr Ikwaye.
However, the KAHC official defended hotel-owners, saying many are unable to refurbish their facilities due to poor business over the past several years.
“Investors in the hotel industry have been operating at a loss for the past three years owing to an international tourist drought,” he said.
Mr Ikwaye called on the Tourism Finance Corporation to offer more affordable loans to investors for them to revamp their facilities.