About 3,000 hotel staff in Malindi and Watamu are staring at job losses due to the low season, with some facilities shutting down for lack of customers one week after the Easter boom.
Their counterparts in Mombasa are, however, lucky as conference tourism is helping hotels stay in business.
Uncertainty over the approaching General Election is also seeing some hoteliers scale down operations, adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha), Kilifi County branch, said the two coastal towns are bracing for hard times.
Although hotels in Mombasa and Diani towns were busy over the Easter holiday, those in Kilifi County had lower guest numbers. In the 1990s, Malindi and Watamu boomed with business due to large numbers of Italian and German holidaymakers. But business took a nosedive after the 2007 post-election violence and terrorist attacks.
Malindi depends largely on the Italian market since most hotels are owned by investors from that country.
Whereas hotels in Mombasa rely on conferences to remain afloat during low seasons, those in Malindi and Watamu depend largely on tourists.
The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Kilifi County branch chairman Philip Chai said most hotels in Malindi and Watamu would close down this month due to low business.
He said some could be shut for good as owners have been operating at a loss for years. “Hotels in Malindi and Watamu are shutting down due to lack of guests,” Mr Chai said.
He added: “Previously, hotels in Malindi used to close down temporarily during the low season. But this time some will no not reopen.”
The KAHC official said the industry in Kilifi County was facing its worst moments, adding that both local and international tourists were hard to come by. He added that tourism in Malindi could recover if Malindi Airport is expanded to handle bigger aircraft.
“International tourists prefer to fly directly from Italy to Malindi, rather than from Europe to Nairobi for eight hours and then connect to Mombasa,” he said.
“After arriving at Moi International Airport in Mombasa, they then have to travel by road for hours to Malindi.
In a phone interview, Mr Chai said it would be difficult for tourism to recover in Kilifi unless the airport’s runway is extended from 1.5km to 2.5km.
The Kudheiha Kilifi County branch head, Mr Michael Yaa, said over 10 hotels in Malindi and Watamu were shut down soon after Easter.
He added that 1,000 of the more than 3,000 workers had already lost their jobs. “Currently, 300 permanent workers have been declared redundant while contracts of the rest have not been renewed,” he said.
Kudheiha Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye said that although hotels in Mombasa and Diani were packed to capacity during Easter, most of the bookings were for the Easter period only. “Majority of the guests were local, and they left after the long holiday,” he said.