03-05-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
The day after the closure of the historic Driftwood Beach Club, a hotel and meeting place not only for residents and tourists of Anglo-Saxon origin, but also for the entire Malindsian community and international tourists since 1963, it is natural to consider how Malindi is changing and how the long, exhausting pandemic period has accelerated certain processes of change in the dynamics of tourism of which the prodromes had already been felt for years.
Having worked through (personally, not yet...) the mourning of the timeless oasis of Silversand, the time has come to take a clear-headed look at what is happening, starting with Malindi itself.
Granted that Driftwood is not defunct but has been sold and will undergo an indispensable evolution in these times, becoming a residential area of flats for sale and perhaps even for rent, it comes to mind the situation in which other structures are abandoned or on stand-by waiting for better times, which however it is important to understand will be very different times from the past.
Malindi itself cannot (and should not) be what it once was: not only is there no longer "that" Malindi, but there is no longer that time, and it is certainly not just a question of Kenya or tourism.
It is said that Malindi is no longer the "Italian colony" that prospered and made so many Kenyans prosper until a decade ago, and this may not be a bad thing if there was a programmatic vision that in Africa is always difficult to find. It is said to be 'a country for old men', paraphrasing the famous Cohen brothers' film. This may already be more of a problem, given that anagraphically the elderly are expiring like fresh produce and the replacement of genetically modified generations of tourists do not see it as a tourist attraction but if anything as a service town and airport hub for the new holiday destination, Watamu or the futuristic Mayungu.
Yet Malindi still has many cards to play in a much-needed renewal.
One of the great sages of local tourism, Philip Chai, former manager of the Billionaire and hotel director since the 1970s, is betting on residential and business tourism. Flats, "hit and run" hotels, shops, a functioning shopping centre and good restaurants (for which we have always been well equipped). Tourism that can also become a drift for families, therefore also offering "facilities" for children, such as amusement parks and so on.
Who at this moment is able to take up the challenge of "residential tourism"? Certainly those who have money to invest, those who know this country and its hidden corners better, those who can see beyond and understand society, without snobbery, nostalgia or wanting to impose their own choices and character. The identikit inevitably leads to investors from Nairobi, and it is no coincidence that they are the ones who have taken over Driftwood. But there are also a number of intelligent Italian entrepreneurs who, over the last few years, have changed direction in Malindi as well, and are now targeting that type of clientele, while also providing an assistance to the entire town, even those who are instinctively refractory and deliberately retrograde.
Roberto Marini with his Ocean Beach Resort, Antonio Colleluori with the Leopard Point and Francesca Biancacci with the Lawfords have taken a firm stand in the direction of the new wind, as have several Italian restaurateurs, adapting their historic menus to the needs of the town's new visitors. Many of them are also happier, despite the times that are stingy with satisfaction and nostalgia for the golden years.
It would also be useful if the law that Tourism Minister Najib Balala promised a few years ago were to be passed: demolition of the skeletons of hotels and ghostly buildings that have been lying defenceless and hideous to the eye for years, due to injunctions, disputes or sudden escapes, and auctions to buy them back. We could see ruins like the Tamani Jua, the Coconut, the Dorado, the Bush Baby resurrected with the new residential spirit that Malindi will have to adapt to. We could employ many Kenyans and make the destination sail towards new seas and new moorings, without having to slalom between wrecks.
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