Tourism players in North Coast region have said a delay in expansion of the Sh5.6 billion Malindi International Airport project has subjected them to losses worth millions of shillings.
Stakeholders who include investors, hotel managers, beach operators and residents said the delay, which begun four years ago, has made them lose tourists to rival hoteliers at the East African coast.
Mr Roberto Macri, Ocean Beach Resort managing director, who chaired the stakeholders meeting, also attended by county government officials, said they are slowly losing international tourists to Zanzibar and Mozambique.
“Modern day tourists prefer destinations where they spend less time of about 15 to 30 minutes to the hotel after arriving at the airport,” he said, adding “lack of direct flights to Malindi International Airport usually forces tourists to book in resorts in Mombasa and Diani.”
Malindi Airport is key to businesses and tourism in the North Coast region since it links transportation system between Lamu, Tana River and Kilifi Counties.
Ms Maureen Awuor, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) North Coast regional chairperson said expansion of the airport would also attract more tourism investors to the region.
"Malindi is one of the important tourism hub in the North Coast region, which attracts celebrities and prominent international businessmen. The airport will provide an opportunity for investments and grow the regional's economy," she added.
Currently, Malindi International Airport handles domestic flights and this has been cited as a major stumbling block to tourism recovery campaigns as international holidaymakers travel for longer hours before reaching the North Coast.
In the last financial year 2017/2018, the government committed Sh1.5 billion for expansion of the airport runway from the current 1.4 kilometres to 2.5 kilometres and already completed the first phase of compensation to families whose land will be used for the project.
The government has also spent another Sh300 million on phase one of the airport’s expansion, which includes expansion of the airport’s apron, construction of a car park and a 7.5km security fence.
Mr Macri said tourists are forced to fly from Europe to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi before boarding domestic flights to Moi International Airport in Mombasa or to Malindi Airport.