Economy

Tourism rebound spurs hotels expansion, hiring

Local tourists at a public beach in Mombasa: Cytonn projected a positive outlook for the coming year on the back of growing interest in domestic tourism. PHOTO | FILE
Local tourists at a public beach in Mombasa: Cytonn projected a positive outlook for the coming year on the back of growing interest in domestic tourism. PHOTO | FILE 

Top hotels at the Coast have stopped job cuts and started expanding on the back of rebounding tourism.

The hotels have had an occupancy of between 70 and 75 per cent in the period since January, up from about 50 per cent in the same period last year and about 30 per cent in 2015.

The growth is welcome news for hoteliers who had been forced to cut jobs, slash pay and even close shop following the crippling effects of several travel alerts issued in 2014 after a spate of terrorist attacks on holiday towns.

Diani Reef Beach Resort, Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort, Travellers Beach Hotel, PrideInn Paradise Beach Resort and the Heritage Group hotel chain —which is owned by the Kenyatta family — are some of the establishments spending millions on renovation  and hiring additional staff.

“It is great news that 2017 has pushed off with a great start of business. We have had an average occupancy of 75 per cent in the last three months in comparison to the 50 per cent we had at the same period last year,” said Bobby Kamani, managing director of Diana Reef which has spent Sh150 million on renovations.

“January occupancies and revenues exceeded our expectations by 20 per cent,” he added.

Heritage chief executive officer Mohamed Hersi echoed similar optimism, saying the Mombasa unit of the chain is hiring staff. “As a result of business improvement last year, we were able to retain our 230 staff at Voyager Hotel. We also had to hire more workers on contract,” said Mr Hersi. “Since the beginning of the year business has been much better than last year, bolstered by domestic and regional tourism as well as international visitors from Europe,” he said.

This is a marked departure from 2015 when the management and staff of Heritage hotels took pay cuts of between 20 to 30 per cent, hoping to avoid layoffs during one of the worst periods for Kenya’s tourism in recent memory.

International visitors rose to 877,602 last year, up from 752,073 arrivals in 2015, a 16.7 per cent growth. Arrivals slumped 20 per cent in 2015. Moi International Airport witnessed the fastest rebound of arrivals at 22.2 per cent. A majority of foreign visitors to Mombasa are holidaymakers looking to enjoy the warm weather in the palm-fringed sandy beaches and resorts. Past terrorism attacks had caused a big drop in foreign visitor arrivals after Western nations issued travel advisories.

Lifted their advisories

The US and Britain have since lifted their advisories on the coastal towns of Mombasa and Malindi, raising hopes of faster tourism revival. “Diani Reef is looking to open a further 100 new suites in the next two years,” Mr Kamani said.

PrideInn Paradise Beach Resort added 108 new rooms over the last year while Sarova Whitesands Beach is spending Sh450 million on renovations. “When the renovation programme is completed in December this year, the hotel will have 338 rooms and create more accommodation for guests,” Whitesands general manager Raj Jadhav said.

mringa@ke.nationmedia.com