Miscellaneous Ramblings by Tony Clegg Butt of Travel News – July 2013

Posted on July 2nd, 2013
Categories: News

TCB

 

 

 

 

 

We want our beaches back!

I’d not heard much recently about the scourge of Kenya’s most popular beaches: the aggressive and invasive beach vendors. Selling everything from safaris to curios to hard drugs, they are in your face 24/7 and use nefarious methods to force a sale.

My 16-year-old daughter was on Diani Beach recently with a friend when approached by a very dodgy beach vendor and his mates. They were selling curios; the girls were not interested, and politely said as much. Immediately they were verbally abused and accused of being racists, and when this intimidation didn’t work, they were sexually harassed.

They spent the rest of their time on one of our best beaches, lounging around the hotel pool, afraid to venture out.

Desperate times certainly, but to stoop to this abusive and aggressive level is totally unacceptable to anyone anywhere – resident or tourist.

Now, who is going to do something about it?

I recall a number of years ago, that government was going to do something about this menace.  Kenya has some of the best beaches in the world, but our tourists feel threatened and, like my daughter, they spend their time around the hotel pool.

I’ve always remembered meeting a honeymoon couple ten years ago or so, who had split their beach holiday between Mauritius and Kenya. They were not best pleased that they were unable to use our beaches because of harassment from beach vendors, while in Mauritius they enjoyed their beach holiday albeit they said on a second rate beach.

While this issue was front and centre in years gone by, the Tourist Police were deployed to designated problem areas, but were seriously challenged by a lack of transport. Off-beach markets were identified and plans made to move the beach vendors to these sites. A rather fanciful idea with no complimentary transportation laid on from hotel to market; and once having lured the beach vendors away, without doubt their places would have been taken by more budding vendors.

My daughter tells me she didn’t see any Tourist Police in the week she was at Diani. Mind you, she spent most of it around the hotel pool. The off-beach markets, not the greatest idea in the first place, have not happened, as far as I am aware.

Now that tourists are returning to our national parks and beaches, government must address issues such as this – vigilant beach patrols by the Tourist Police would be a good start.

On-beach markets in designated areas with licensed and self-regulated vendors could be an answer. It worked for a couple of years at Watamu, until pressure built on the local administration from those who were excluded from this supposedly lucrative trade. Bowing to pressure, they then sent in the thugs to evict the licensed vendors and to destroy all their kiosks with immediate effect. No advance notice required.

On my last visit to Watamu, the wrecked kiosks still littered the beach, with the previously licensed vendors now plying their trade in front of their former shops.  While the influx of new, more aggressive vendors was obvious, it reminded me of my daughter’s Diani incident.

There has to be an answer. I thought Watamu had got it right, where all vendors were licensed and carried ID and importantly, were self-regulated. It worked well for a year or two; a model for the rest of Kenya’s fabulous beaches. Sadly, its demise and the apparent reasons for it, does not bode well for the dream of hassle-free Kenyan beaches.

Everyone has to have the opportunity to make a living; that is obvious. But taken in the context that the shopping mall is full, do you burn it down in the hope that it’s rebuilt with more shops, therefore more opportunity?

I still walk the beach everyday I’m at the coast, I fear no beach vendor – they annoy me greatly and never take no for an answer. There must be a solution without re-inventing the wheel. The Watamu model worked – government must build on it and try to be as inclusive as is reasonable.

Regulation and a bit of education is required, for starters. Please, Madam Secretary, take note and take action. We have to start somewhere; this cannot go on unchecked.

We have  to protect our reputation as a quality tourist destination – what is happening on our beaches is unacceptable behaviour, and can only harm our country’s efforts to attract the 3 million tourists our new President is aiming for.

We want our beaches back!

To read this month’s Travel News click on the magazine cover. TN July