As the Easter season comes to a close, domestic, regional and international tourists begin their journey home from the beaches across the Eastern African Indian Ocean shorelines and from the safari lodges in the national parks.
Hospitality stakeholders have expressed their concern to this correspondent about occupancy levels over the May to July period, and in particular the beach resorts along the coast from Malindi to Ukunda and across in Tanzania, but also on Zanzibar, are expecting lower occupancies.
Some resorts will reportedly close for ‘maintenance’, more likely prompted by insufficient advance bookings to keep them open but using the time to spruce things up and give staff their annual leave and accumulated off days.
Across East Africa is the ‘low season’ a period of the year when special offers flood the market to attract domestic and regional tourists, stimulating demand and providing room occupancies, but this year bears an added challenge again.
Rising fuel prices and rising commodity prices have taken a significant portion of freely available income away from potential travelers, leaving them to ponder if a holiday to the coast or into the parks is affordable after all, and airlines are struggling with the rocketing cost of jet fuel too.
While Kenya Airways hit the market with a special all inclusive fare from Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi and Kisumu of 3.000/- Kenya Shillings one way, fares after the Easter holidays are returning to ‘normal’ and their main domestic competitors Fly 540 and Jetlink will equally assess market conditions, if not a reduction of scheduled flights or the use of smaller aircraft may be required to meet the challenge of higher operating cost due to current levels in the price of JetA1 fuel.
Air Uganda had already some weeks ago taken the decision to suspend their flights between Entebbe to Zanzibar via Mombasa for the low season, taking capacity out of the market when demand is traditionally low and undoubtedly all other airlines in the region with a significant leisure travel segment, will do the same. Last minute ‘special deals’ by hotels, resorts and lodges too may be harder to justify and sustain this year, as the cost to run these establishments too have suffered the impact of rising prices, which made running generators in lodges and safari camps substantially more expensive compared to a year ago, while the cost of food has equally risen, limiting the scope of tariff reductions.
International tourists too are said to be affected by fuel supplements slapped on their holiday packages, with long haul flights from the key European gateways now ambushing tourists, and in particular the aggressive marketing by Egyptian and Tunisian resorts, located half the distance of East Africa from the source markets along the Mediterranean and Red Sea shores, has caused East African tourism strategists sleepless nights. Tunisia and Egypt are reportedly offering rebates of up to 50 percent on their rates compared to last year on ‘specials’ with an average reduction of between 25 and 30 percent, luring hitherto undecided holiday makers who also have to count their pounds and pennies.
This therefore is the time to assess the product range and quality of hotels, resorts and safari lodges in Eastern Africa and make a determined effort to improve, refurbish and innovate, to attract travelers seeking not just a quality holiday but one at a destination like East Africa which so readily combines natural attractions and national parks with superb beaches, a competitive advantage Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda need to build on.