Mombasa seeks own tourism board to market county sites

Tourists at a beach hotel in Mombasa on June 28, 2015. FILE PHOTO |
Tourists at a beach hotel in Mombasa on June 28, 2015. FILE PHOTO |   NMG

The Mombasa County government plans to set up its own tourism board responsible for marketing and formulating policies governing the sector in the county.

County Secretary Francis Thoya said tourist attraction sites in the devolved unit have not been given proper attention or well marketed, roles that will be taken up by the board.

He said the governor, Hassan Joho, had already instructed the county executive member in charge of tourism to engage the private sector in order to prepare for the necessary legislation.

The regulations are expected to be passed before the expiry of the current county assembly in August.

“I could say that we are at an advanced stage. For instance there are aspects of tourism in Mombasa that have not been marketed and these are the ones we are seeking to leverage on to attract more visitors to the tourist town,” he said.

Local marketing

By doing so, Mombasa will be borrowing a leaf from destinations around the world where tourism is marketed locally instead of relying on the national tourism board.

According to Mr Thoya, some tourist products that have not been well marketed in Mombasa, including the Swahili and Mijikenda cultures.

He also cited dozens of historical and archaeological sites that dot the coastline.

Besides, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is exploring modalities of setting up an underwater museum.

The museum will give visitors interested in archaeology research a chance to view ruins of ships that sunk along the coastline with a long history of sailing.

The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers Caterers (KAHC) executive officer Sam Ikwaye says while tourism is a national function, setting up of county tourism boards would be the best bet in handling local tourism issues.

While appreciating the county’s efforts in setting up the body, Mr Ikwaye said the board would help avoid controversies arising from unpopular legislation by the county assembly as has happened in the past.

“Last year the county introduced a bed levy that would not only have resulted in the destination becoming too expensive for visitors but also contravened other laws since we also pay the catering levy. Such laws would ideally be passed after extensive negotiations with the private sector,” he said.

He noted that the entertainment sector has also faced challenges where the county government enforces business-unfriendly legislation, such as limiting of alcohol drinking hours in a tourist destination.

Mr Ikwaye cited the success of Maulid and Lamu cultural festivals that have been organised by the private sector in collaboration with the Lamu County government.

“For a long time now we have been seeking ways of reintroducing the Mombasa cultural festival, which if in place we feel would go a long way in marketing the destination.

Waste of resources

However, Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA) chairman Mohamed Hersi says that forming county boards would be a waste of resources, adding that regional bodies would be more viable.

“The Coast counties, for instance are interconnected, such that what happens in Mombasa is replicated in Kwale and Kilifi. What needs to be done is create a body with representation from all the counties in a region including the private sector,” he told the Business Daily in a telephone interview.

He noted that in countries such as South Africa, marketing of tourism is done in terms of regions, pointing out that Kenya could borrow a leaf from some of these countries with thriving tourism sectors.

Mombasa’s move to set up a tourism board comes at a time coastal counties have been urged to adopt a common law to safeguard beaches, which are a key tourist attraction to the region.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala recently asked Mombasa, Lamu, Kilifi, Tana River and Taita-Taveta counties to follow Kwale’s example and come up with a Bill that would create laws to protect the beaches.

Kwale County has been voted for three consecutive times by the World Travel Awards (WTA) as Africa’s leading beach destination.