East Africa is synonymous with wildlife, yet it also has iconic beach destinations for travellers to immerse themselves in. Tourism Update looks at what is happening at East Africa’s coastal regions.

Increased interest

Ruth Chege, Head of Sales and Product for Sense of Africa East Africa, says there has been a significant increase in the number of tourists visiting the East African coast. Zanzibar and many surrounding small private islands have seen a boom in tourism, adds Gabriele Manzoni, Coastal Aviation Marketing Manager. These sentiments are reiterated by CEO of Lakato Safaris, Hilda Nakato, who says tourism at many of East Africa’s beach destinations has improved, especially in Mombasa (Kenya) and Zanzibar (Tanzania).

Chege says this is due to direct flights to the East African coast, which removes the cost of having to transfer from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the coast, a distance of almost 500 kilometres. “Ethiopian Airlines added another flight to Mombasa in 2018. This is in addition to eight other carriers to Kenya’s coast. More than 15 international airlines fly direct to Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar airports.”

According to Chege, direct flights bring in tourists from Europe and North America and, in addition to national carriers, there are a number of private leisure airlines flying mainly from Europe to the coast.

Furthermore, Charlotte Smith, Manager of Giltedge DMC, says the Kenyan government has given permission to two European charter airlines to operate direct flights to Mombasa.

Sandra Inyangat, Head of Marketing at Lakato Safaris, says the travel and hospitality sector in Kenya has seen infrastructure developments such as the Standard Gauge Railway, a steady macroeconomic environment, improved budgetary allocations by the government, increased air connectivity within Africa and resilience amongst those in the tourism sector have all contributed to the marketing and international visibility of its beaches.

This is echoed by Frederik Schäfer, Sales and Marketing Manager of Severin Sea Lodge and Severin Safari Camp, who adds that many hotels are investing in upgrades, including Severin Sea Lodge.

To further aid the growth of Kenya’s tourism sector, Mohammed Hersi, Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation and Group Director of Operations at Pollmans Tours and Safaris, mentions that the government has also waived import duties to support any new developments and also help refurbishments. 

The international interest in East Africa’s beach destinations can be largely attributed to government support, explains Nakato: “Kenya has vigorously marketed its tourism potential.” Other contributing factors, she says, include political stability, beautiful hotels, a good transport network, good hospitality, and ideal weather conditions.

Nakato told Tourism Update that there were various campaigns marketing East Africa’s beach destinations. Recently there was a tourism conference in Mombasa, says Nakato, where international tour agents were hosted and had a taste and feel of the hospitality in Mombasa and Kenya at large. 

Tourism cruising along

According to Chege, tourists are also visiting the Kenya and Tanzania coasts on cruise ships. The UK, US and Canada are the key source markets for cruise tourism, she says, mentioning that Kenya is upgrading its cruise terminal to capture more of this market.

The new state-of-the-art cruise ship terminal is expected to be completed this year and will simultaneously accommodate two Oasis-class cruise ships, one of the largest classes of passenger ships.

The Kenyan government has undertaken modernising scenic waterfront locations in Mombasa and Malindi, for the purpose of increasing tourist numbers.

The construction of the new Mama Ngina Waterfront Park is also expected to be complete by mid-2019. Furthermore, the scenic park, dotted with century-old baobab trees, which in recent times was under the care of the National Museums of Kenya, is to be spruced up into a modern facility complete with an amphitheatre that can take up to 1000 people on terrace seating, a Presidential square and waterway, walkways, a cultural centre, pigeon coops, container kiosks, several ablution blocks and two iconic gateways.

The ongoing construction of Dongo Kundu Bypass in Mombasa, also known as the Southern Bypass, is meant to ease traffic at the Likoni ferry. The Bypass will decongest Mombasa by providing an alternative to the Likoni ferry through linking the mainland with the south coast. The project will involve construction of an interchange at the Likoni-Lunga road and installation of two bridges: one at Mwache – spanning 900 metres – and a second one at Mteza straddling 1.4 kilometres, explains Chege.

Popular beach destinations

Inyangat says the Indian Ocean coastline is a one-stop beach destination, known for its white sandy beaches and warm water. Mombasa, in particular, has become a favourite amongst travellers. “The crystal waters are ideal for surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving.”

Sandies Tropical Village Hotel, Malindi.

The most popular coastal destinations in East Africa according to Chege, include Malindi, Kilifi, Lamu Island in Kenya, Dar es Salaam, and Pemba Island in Tanzania.

Kritzinger says Zanzibar and Diani Beach (south of Mombasa) seem to be favourites. Mafia Island is mentioned by Deepesh Gupta, Business Development Manager at Auric Air.

Mafia Island, Tanzania.

Accommodation

Accommodation ranges from budget to luxury lodges. The mid-range options are suitable for most international travellers, says Augustin Ndikuriyo, MD of Augustine Tours: “The other option is ‘onboard accommodation’ for upmarket travellers during yachting tours where they can spend their entire trip on board a boat whilst exploring the riches of the Indian Ocean.”

According to Chege there are over 300 hotels along the Kenya and Tanzania coasts, ranging from budget to five-star resorts, boutique hotels, villas and long-stay residences, offering a range of high-standard quality services.

Serena Hotel Zanzibar.

There are a number of accommodation options throughout East Africa’s coastal destinations. Nakato suggests Mombasa Serena, the Four Seasons, Diani Beach resort, Tamarid Hotel, Sarova White Sands in Kenya, and Sea Cliff Hotel, Serena Hotel Zanzibar and Park Hyatt when visiting Zanzibar.

What tourists are looking for

Chege says travellers, when looking at beach destinations, also consider the locations of the accommodation, on-site facilities, such as a swimming pool, air-conditioning, restaurants, ocean sports, spa and wellness, children’s activities, honeymooners’ special, and evening entertainment, as well as local attractions such as marine parks, forest sanctuaries, city tours, cultural and historic interest, and a chance to embark on a safari in national parks.