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Famed for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and a serene atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists every year, the South Coast however seems to be losing its lustre.
Famed for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and a serene atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists every year, the South Coast however seems to be losing its lustre. While tourism is flourishing, real estate is steadily taking a battering as investors, encouraged by poor infrastructure and security shun the area.

The notoriously unreliable ferry service is increasingly being fingered for the lack of access to the region.

The area holds unlimited tourism and agricultural potential, with transport not left behind especially if talk of a bypass artery to neighbouring Tanzania and Zanzibar turns to reality.

Ferry users, especially tourists and the business community, have long groused over major delays at the crossing channel and are blaming the government for this neglect.

Likoni ferry channel which serves some 180,000 pedestrians and 3,000 motorists daily is operated by four vessels; Mv Harambee, Mv Nyayo, Mv Kilindini and Mv Pwani while the fifth ferry, Mv Mvita serves the Mtongwe channel. Most of these vessels have outlived their lifespan, resulting in their frequent stalling.

Earlier this year, the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers and Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association officials said investors have been discouraged by the ferry problem, with the Association’s Coast executive officer Gladwell Mumia saying tourism in the South Coast is not growing to its full potential due to persistent mishaps at the channel.

“We are meant to understand that new ferries had been ordered but for some procurement reasons, are still in the high seas. And even when they get here, the economic viability of running the ferry service must be seriously looked into,” said the Architectural Association of Kenya national chairman, Steven Oundo.

Property statistics speak volumes of the problem. In the North Coast, areas such as Nyali and Bamburi record an acre of beach plot going for as high as Sh60 million. Down South, it hardly fetches Sh10million. Rent collection in the South Coast has also dipped compared to areas such as Malindi, Kilifi and Lamu.

“Statistics indicates rent collection in the Island and in other areas has increased from 10 to 16 per cent in the last two years, but in South Coast the rent has remained low,” said AAK Mombasa branch chairman Maxwell Suero.

Investors are shifting to other regions such as Zanzibar while some are selling off their depreciating parcels of land.

“AAK has written to the government to speed up the process of building a bypass at Dongo Kundu to reduce the cost to investors who have an interest in developing their idle land in South Coast,” said Mr Suero.

Even then, a bridge at Likoni channel is not a viable option — transport officials say the idea was mooted three decades ago by a Japanese company, but was shelved due to logistical hurdles.

Although the Kenya Airports Authority has rehabilitated the Ukunda airstrip to allow direct flights from Nairobi, an assurance of security and better stable infrastructure is seen as the panacea for the region’s problems.

Investors want the airstrip upgraded to airport status so that bigger planes can fly directly from Nairobi and Europe to Diani. Currently small airline operators SafariLink and Air Kenya ply the route.

In addition to ferry woes, the region is also stalked by a perception of insecurity, a position confirmed by property firm Myspace Properties.

“Although the ferry could be one of the reasons for depreciation of property prices in the area, the problem started way back in the 1990s especially after the infamous Kayabombo mayhem that scared away investors,” said company director Mwenda Thuranira.

“The picture that was relayed all over of houses burnt down and the tense political atmosphere every time there is an election is contributing to the area being unpopular with property developer and investors,” he said in an interview, adding that a lot needed to be done to restore investor confidence.

But he remains optimistic that as land becomes scarce, people will have no option but to venture south — the only posh area remaining with idle land.