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County moots bold strategies to revive tourism in Lamu

Tourists enjoy a boat ride in the Indian Ocean in Lamu County on February 25. [Photo: Gideon Maundu/Standard]

Lamu County Government has rolled out new recovery strategies to spur tourism in the region and make it a preferred destination.

The Lamu Archipelago is a group of small islands located on the Northern Coast of Kenya comprising Lamu, Manda, Pate and Kiwayuu.

The region suffered a blow after terror attacks by suspected al Shabaab militia leading to a near shut down of tourism activities.

But following the pacification of the county after a security mop up operation dubbed Operation Linda Boni, tourism is on the road to recovery.

Governor Issa Timamy is now working with key stakeholders and launched ideas to entice visitors back to the region and branded Lamu as an ‘Island of Festivals’.

The county has been hosted well packaged cultural festivals since November and the religious festival of Maulidi, which have seen an upsurge in local and international tourists.

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There were also the Arts festivals in February that attracted over 100 international artists from across the globe. The county will also host Yoga festivals later in the month expected to attract a good number of international visitors.

Director of Tourism, Trade and Culture, Mr Ali Ahmed Alamoody observes that owing to the county’s interventions, the number of tourists has been growing steadily.

“We have seen a surge in arrivals since November following a number of interventions from both the national and county governments,’’ Alamoody said. He added: “The additional tourist arrivals at the archipelago destination marveled for its rich Swahili and Coastal cultural heritage attractions are no doubt as a result of the many festivals being held here”.

Local hotelier and General Manager of Lamu Palace, part of the Romantic Group of Hotel, Ms Keziah Mumbi said there is need to upgrade infrastructure to help ease connectivity and access to Lamu.

“We have the Manda airport upgrade complete and hope that tarmacking of the road from Minjilla to Mokowe will be hastened to allow more local tourists to Lamu Island faster,’’ she said.

A fortnight ago, Governor Timamy made a fact finding tour of Kiwayu Island and Mkokoni area in Lamu East Constituency, which had borne the brunt of al Shabaab attacks that saw kidnapping of foreign tourists over seven years ago.

The region is famed for clear and undisturbed white sandy beaches patronised by high end tourists. The hotels and lodges located here included Kiwayu Safari Lodge, Chriss Sharp, Kitangani bay, Munira camp among others.

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Lamu is best accessed by air. There are scheduled flights daily from Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Malindi. The island is serviced by an airstrip on neighbouring Manda Island. The strip can also be used by private charters.

A dhow ferries arriving passengers to either Lamu town or Shela within the main Lamu Island. Many yachts also come to Lamu, often sheltering in the channel near Shela.

Timamy said his government will refurbish the two existing airstrips to enable planes land and take off with ease.

Takwa Ruins

Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has been lending a helping hand to bolster the sector. Chief Executive Officer Betty Radier said KTB has been profiling Lamu as an island of festival while at the same time supporting the annual cultural festivals through sponsorship.

“We have also developed marketing brochures solely for Lamu Island and have through our parent Tourism Ministry, lobbied for the successful revision and downsizing of travel advisories to the destination,’’ Dr Radier told Weekend Business.

She said they are also sponsoring international and local media trips to highlight the county’s tourist attractions and unique sites.

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Some places to visit in Lamu include Takwa Ruins located on the South Eastern corner of Manda Island, which is a 30-minute boat ride from Lamu Town. Takwa ruins are the remains of a thriving 15th and 16th century Swahili trading town before it was abandoned in the seventeenth century. It is not only important because of its period of occupation but also because of its dense settlement and its relatively well preserved remains.

Lamu German Post Office – German nationals Clement Denhardt and G. A. Fisher first made contact with the Lamu hinterland in the late 1870s. This building was the first German Post Office ever established along the East African coast.

The Post office was established on November 22, 1888 by the Germans, led by Clement Denhardt. The communications and trade contacts for the German Protectorate in Witu could at the time be served through Lamu, a well-established town with links to the outside world.

The Post office operated for more than two years before its closure on March 3, 1891 after the withdrawal of the German settlement in Witu.

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