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Domestic tourism, a burning desire to own property at the Coast, and improved security in the outskirts of Mombasa are fuelling property development in the town.
Domestic tourism, a burning desire to own property at the Coast, and improved security in the outskirts of Mombasa are fuelling property development in the town.

Developers are keen on exploiting the growing opportunities, constructing budget hotels and apartments in various parts of the city.

Areas such as Changamwe, Shanzu, and Bamburi have in the recent past experienced exponential growth in property development, thanks to improved security and demand for housing units at the beach front.

Shanzu and Bamburi have proved particularly attractive to real estate investors, who have in the past five years been driven by buyers who want a piece near the serene atmosphere of the neighbourhood. The cool breeze of the nearby Indian Ocean is, of course, an additional incentive.

Besides being hot cakes for a ready market dominated by a growing middle class, a number of these properties have also been turned into holiday homes by upcountry investors, says Suresh Hirani of Shree Homes Limited, a real estate company that has developed 200 houses on 30 acres off Nyali’s Links Road at a cost of about Sh1 billion.

“Many of the new properties in this area are three- and four-bedroom houses,” says Hirani.

“Those who have bought them as holiday homes rent them out to friends and relatives or even institutions when they are not using them.”

Seven years ago, Nyali, though an exclusive neighourhood, was relatively affordable to the upper middle class, with residential apartments then going for between Sh8 million and Sh12 million.

Now some of these apartments have been turned into guest houses, with one unit going for between Sh15,ooo and Sh20,000 a day, depending on the tourism calendar.

Developers see easy money in this form of investment, and with Mombasa steadily growing as a tourism and conference destination, many other such developments are in the pipeline in Nyali at the north and Changamwe to the west of the island.

Hirani, for instance, says he will soon be breaking ground for the construction of 48 units of three- and four-bedroom apartments near Nakumatt Nyali.

Congestion within Mombasa island is driving businesses to the outskirts, and the Nyali neighbourhood is bearing the brunt of this exodus.

Houses sitting on large plots are being pulled down in favour of apartments and office blocks, especially along Links Road, a situation that has been likened to what happened to Westlands in Nairobi.

For a long time, Westlands was a sleepy suburb of Nairobi, with a tightly controlled development regime ensuring that the order and exclusivity of the neighbourhood was not interrupted by the tentacular growth of the city.

Then, after decades of maintaining its sheen, the city’s business class saw an opportunity to cater to the consumer and entertainment needs of the nearby population and, within a very short time, the region burst at the seams.

Today Westlands is as chaotic as the Nairobi central business district, and there are fears that Nyali could be heading there. The area, apart from attracting the upwardly mobile business executive with a few thousands to burn in accommodation, is also fast becoming the entertainment hub of Mombasa.

Property owners are now turning their houses into garden restaurants to tap into this burgeoning entertainment market. Among them is Kevin Magotsi. Relying on a business model of a high-end restaurant, Magotsi leased a seven-bedroom house in Nyali and remodelled it into the classy restaurant.

“We spent about Sh10 million to transform the house into a restaurant,” he says, “and we are planning to expand the facility so that we can start offering accommodation as well.”

Although the Ministry of Tourism does not have a segment that details the amount that domestic tourism contributes to the national earnings, interviews with stakeholders revealed that local destinations contributed a big chunk of last year’s sector earnings of Sh98 billion.

“Local conference tourism has helped domestic tourism to reach an average of 30 per cent of total earnings (Sh29.4 billion),” said Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association (MCTA) chairman Mohamed Hersi.

Across the Makupa Causeway into Changamwe, one of Mombasa town’s best known neighbourhoods, investors are turning the dominant Swahili structures there into modern office and residential apartments.

For an area that, for decades, was the emblem of Mombasa’s problems, including poverty, insecurity, and lack of infrastructure, these new developments have brought about a feeling of modernity and a semblance of order. And with the Moi International Airport nearby, the potential for modern hospitality structures is massive.

Changamwe is thus slowly taking advantage of its strategic location as a key gateway to Mombasa as it sits between the Moi International Airport, the Port of Mombasa, and the Mombasa central business district.

Business premises, including banks, shopping centres, and hotels, have popped up in the area, which for years boasted only a few dusty container depots.

Now, with these new developments, more and more container freight stations are moving to Changamwe from the island and other parts of the town. In just under a year, commercial banks have opened six fully fledged branches to serve the rapidly growing area.

The fortunes in domestic tourism have also propelled development of budget hotels west of Mombasa, with investors training their eye on Changamwe because of its proximity to the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. To cash in on this domestic demand, investors have built several luxury hotels and renovated old ones.

“Holidaying in Mombasa has now become affordable for Kenyans with a budget of even less than Sh20,000 on a three-day trip to Mombasa,” says Jackson Manase, a tour operator.

Investors and residents who spoke to DN2 attributed the development of hotels in Changamwe to improved security in the area.

“Changamwe administrators have in the past two years worked closely with the community, and that partnership has resulted in improvement of security in the region,” says John Mwakio, a resident who singled out for praise the area division officer, Ms Alice Wachira.

Simon Ndolo, the chief executive officer of Ndolo Investments Limited, says Changamwe is the next region to watch at the Coast. His company recently opened a three-star hotel with a 98-bed capacity built at a cost of Sh120 million. The hotel is only a 10-minute drive from the airport and comes complete with an entertainment joint.

“By putting the premises close to the airport, we are emulating a concept common in Europe where guests spend time in other places but move into a hotel near the exit point on the last day to avoid that last-minute rush,” says Ndolo.

“The upgrading of Changamwe police station into a divisional headquarters has also restored confidence among investors around here.”

Players in the tourism sector have, however, cautioned that haphazard development of apartments and budget hotels might cheapen the coastal tourism circuit.

Besides lack of qualified staff to take good care of guests, the establishments do not have proper facilities, says Mr Hersi of MCTA.

“These developments should be controlled because some of them go beyond three floors yet they don’t have elevators, which goes against the laid down procedures for tourist facilities,” he adds.

Besides hotels, several business premises are under construction in Changamwe, with a Sh1 billion shopping complex coming up soon. Ben Mutuku, a real estate marketing executive, says the venture would be a major boost to the image of the area as a commercial hub.

The five-storey building will host 60 offices and is targeting leading shipping line agents, clearing and forwarding agents, cargo consolidators, transporters, and other stakeholders such as banks wishing to move away from Mombasa island.

“It will be ideal for logistics firms dealing with cargo as it will take less than five minutes to reach the port from the offices,” Mr Mutuku says.

However, the marketer notes that the development of new frontiers in Mombasa should go in tandem with the expansion of basic amenities, including water supply and access roads.

“There is a need to expand existing infrastructure to cope with this growth, otherwise the developments might become a curse to the local population by ushering in an era of confusion, chaos, and disorder,” he says.