Domestic bookings have been stifled on account of the recent bout of election uncertainties

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Kenya hosted major conferences including TICAD and UNCTAD last year. Given the strategic and geographical location of the country; giving it an edge to host more international conferences, investors mainly hoteliers, have shown business interests mainly aiming at offering visitors an opportunity to enjoy. Things were rosy until politics set in.

With the elections in the backdrop this year, the economy has been growing at a slow pace. Despite the setbacks, tourism has been upbeat as international bookings have been steady at 70%, according to Bobby Kamani, MD of Diani Reef. He spoke to Victor Adar on fourth quarter performance of the tourism sector.

What’s your take on business and political arena?
The domestic holidaymakers have not shown the usual booking enthusiasm for their holidays in December, which usually is the peak of Kenya’s tourism. We are optimistic that things will normalise after the fresh elections and we should have a healthy occupancy.

How do you think 2018 will be for tourism?
The year 2018 will be a recovery period for the economy away from an electioneering year. We believe that as the economy recovers, tourism will get a boost in the second half of next year.

Have any of Government’s heavy infrastructure like construction of highways, bypasses made any impact in terms of driving business for hoteliers like you?
The completion of Dongo-Kundu bypass in Q1 of 2018 would be a great boost to the tourism opportunities at the South Coast. As you know, tourism at the South Coast has suffered for the longest time as the ferry terminus in Likoni lack the capacity to transport many tourists causing logistics mayhem. This will change significantly and both international and domestic tourists will be able to access South Coast within 15-20 minutes from the Moi International Airport.

The government is creating an enabling environment for businesses, so it seems. But what do you want them to change?
I would like to thank the Government for their efforts to construct the Dongo-Kundu. This is part of the Public Private Partnership project, which has helped to open up the South Coast and would be beneficial to our business. We are also calling on the government to expedite the expansion of the Ukunda Airport to allow big airlines land in South Coast and increase traffic to our facilities.​​

As the man at the helm, what is Diani Reef doing in positioning itself for both local and international tourism?
We have invested heavily on international tourism road shows in the UK, Germany, US among other regions, which has really borne fruit. Apart from marketing and positioning Diani Reef Brand we also promote Kenya as a destination.

For the local market we have introduced customised products that allow domestic holidaymakers to enjoy tourism in a cost-effective manner. We believe that additional infrastructure brought about by the Standard Gauge Railway has motivated domestic tourism and we have seen more interest of locals wanting to visit the coastal region because of affordable and efficient transport.

South Africa or Egypt aside, our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania are two of East Africa’s fastest growing tourism destinations. What are your recommendations if tourism was to take off like it is happening in emerging markets?
We need to aggressively continue marketing Brand Kenya both locally and internationally. Kenya sits at a strategic geographical location in Africa making it easier for international flights to access it thus promoting international tourism. At the same time, this country enjoys a rich culture and diversity that helps promote cultural tourism.

It is also important that we continue having more direct flights from International destinations with affordable airfares. Recently, KQ got approvals to fly directly to the US. We believe that will be a great boost to Kenya’s tourism. As we speak, Jetways has introduced direct flights from Nairobi to Diani increasing traffic to South Coast. Finally, a strong governance and political stability is necessary to spur growth in Tourism.

Do you have avenues for locals who would love to save for vacations? What incentives have you put in place to serve the same purpose?
Early this year we introduced a product known as Easy Pay Plan that allowed domestic tourist to choose a package and save for it over time before disembarking on their holiday. They are also able to choose a package and pay for it by instalments using both their bank transfers and mobile payment platforms. We have introduced this new model to encourage a culture of saving for vacations and encourage Kenyans to embrace local tourism. Many of the international tourists who come to Kenya save up for a certain period before embarking on their journey. Easy Pay Plan will allow many Kenyans to have an experience just like their international counterparts.

Why should one visit Diani Reef and not any other hotel?

This beach resort is the perfect destination for beach holidays, corporate and social events and grand weddings. With multi-cuisine dining outlets, bars, well-appointed rooms and suites, swimming pool and spa, it promises nothing but the ultimate holiday experience.
Diani Reef entered the Maasai Mara National Reserve. How much did you spend on setting up this facility?

We constructed an ultra-modern state of the art conference facility at a tune of Sh100 million enabling businesses and governments to host international and local conferences without worrying about capacity.

Any accolades you have won?
We are proud to say that Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa has been the winner of many prestigious awards, the most recent being the 2015 Africa’s Leading Spa Resort and 2015 Kenya’s Leading Beach Resort awarded by the distinguished World Travel Awards.