Tourism industry at Malindi – Malindi History

Tourism was the newest, fastest growing, and the most valuable single industry of Malindi. In 1968 tourism was worth at least £240,000 from hotel expenditure alone, which was greater than agriculture (£217,000), fishing (£48,000), the dhow trade or any other single retail business of Malindi.

“Tourism was the newest, fastest growing, and the most valuable single industry of Malindi”

Tourism was also responsible for employing the largest number of people in the town and was the greatest earner of foreign exchange of any industry in Malindi. In 1968 the four major hotels and one club with their several hundred employees grossed more money than the 50,000 farmers in the Sub-district received for the surplus crops for the entire year.

sinbad Hotel Malindi History tourism industry
The Sindbad Hotel (1946). Source: MMS Archives

While other places on the coast have equally fine weather, sandy beaches and attractive settings, Malindi was the only town, aside from Mombasa, to develop into a major tourist resort in East Africa. The main reason for Malindi’s success with tourism lied in the fact that a small but aggressive group of entrepreneurs realized at the end of World War II that Malindi could be developed into a major tourist centre.

These Europeans began to build hotels and advertise them throughout East Africa. Although in the early 1950’s there were some difficulties in introducing rates so that improvements could be made to the town, perseverance eventually overrode the objections of the traditionalist who did not want to make any changes. The conflict between those people who wanted to improve the town and the supporters of the status quo was resolved when the latter realized that they could also benefit from tourism.

A more attractive Malindi, it was reasoned, would attract tourists who in turn would be responsible for enlarging the market for traditionalist’ agricultural products and provide a greater demand for the goods in their shops

“A more attractive Malindi, it was reasoned, would attract tourists.”

The leaders of the Asian and European communities continued to develop and improve the town of Malindi throughout the 1950’s. However, a series of problems arose during the late 1970’s and early 1960’s when many of the upcountry Europeans who were the main supporters of the tourist industry of Malindi, began to leave Kenya on account of political uncertainties. In 1963 and 1964 the hotel proprietors became aware that there was an imminent crisis because many of their clientele were emigrating from East Africa. At this time, Sir Wilfrid Havelock, one of the owners of Lawford’s Hotel and a prominent member of the Malindi and Mambrui urban council, foresaw that the future of Malindi’s hotels could be assured by introducing inexpensive package tours from western Europe.

View of the sea

Although many people, including some of the hotel owners in Malindi, strongly objected to these tours on account of the probability that they would lower the standards and give the town a “bad” name, Sir Wilfrid Havelock and Edgar Hermann(the owner of Blue Marlin Hotel) went ahead and accepted the tours. Now all of the international hotels of Malindi regularly take tourists from charter flights with the exception of Driftwood Club. The owners of all these hotels will now admit that without the charter flights, they would not have been able to expand during the middle 1960’s nor would their contribution to the community have been so valuable.