13 unlicensed lodges shut down in Mara

Tourism minister, Najib Balala. Photo/FILE

The government has stopped 13 unlicensed hotels and lodges from operating in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in a clean-up exercise meant to boost the image of one of the country’s leading tourist attractions.

This follows an inspection of the reserve last month that established that 80 per cent of the 115 properties are licensed.

Thirteen were operating illegally while others are either being constructed or have been closed for renovation.

“These properties are denying the government revenue and tough action has to taken,” said Tourism minister Najib Balala as he presented the findings of the inspection team.

It was also established that poor governance by group ranches and conservancies, especially in land sub-divisions, had led to a high concentration of facilities in the Koiyiaka and Siana areas.

Most of the affected facilities were tented camps in Siana.

The report also noted that an advertisement put out in the media warning property owners of the impending inspection led to a rush for licences.

The team comprised officials of the Hotels and Restaurant Authority , county councils, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Tourism ministry, Catering Levy Trustee and the Tourist Police Unit.

Licensing of facilities in the tourism sector is first done by the local authorities and the National Environmental Management Association (NEMA) before the ministry can issue a tourist licence.

Maasai Mara is one of the leading tourist attractions in the country, with major investors looking to reap from its popularity.

This has seen an increase in the number of properties in and outside the reserve, especially during the high season when the temporary or mobile camps are set up.

These were not captured in the report as they were closed due to the ongoing low season.

Similar exercises are expected to be carried out in other parts of the country, especially in Malindi where sector players have complained about the licensing the villas.

There are currently 400 villas that are legally registered but the minister says they could be more.

“The move to get the real picture on the ground is seen as a step in the right direction towards cleaning up the sector and creating a level playing field for all investors,” said Mr Mike Macharia, the chief executive of Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers.

He said the next move would be to adopt the management plan for the reserve that would help control developments.

The management plan for the Mara has yet to be adopted although it was completed over a year ago.

A few issues have been raised by sector players, leading to the delay.

An inter-ministerial meeting is scheduled for this Friday to discuss the way forward and look at what can be adopted immediately.

“We shall see what can be implemented immediately and what needs to be done next,” said Mr Balala.

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