Project Discovery Diary: Kenya
Rosie Saunders and Thomas Crouch spent 2 weeks in Kenya as part of Thomson’s internal volunteering programme. Here’s what they got up to…
Volunteer Names: Rosie Saunders and Thomas Crouch
Job Titles: Purchasing Assistant and Web Business Lead
Project Discovery Location: Kenya
Assignment: To find out about changing attitudes towards the beach sellers in Kenya, and make improvements to the general beach experience at Bamburi.
Our mission in Kenya
Our mission in Kenya was to gather staff and customer feedback on a pilot project that has been running at Bamburi Beach, 12 kilometres north of Mombasa. The project came about from research conducted in 2011, which showed that illegal beach trading was impacting on the number of tourists visiting Kenya’s beaches.
Research conducted in 2011 showed that illegal beach trading was impacting on the number of tourists visiting Kenya’s beaches. The aim of the project is to both improve the holiday experience for tourists and to help legitimate beach sellers to earn a living from tourism by providing training and better coordination.
Our job was to find out how the project is going by speaking to customers, staff and hoteliers, as well as experiencing the beach environment for ourselves.
What did we expect?
One of the most important aspects of our trip was to experience the situation first-hand – to be tourists for 2 weeks so that we could understand the situation from the point of view of our customers. So, we spent lots of time walking up and down Bamburi Beach.
Tom had been to Kenya before back in 2009, when he experienced significant numbers of beach sellers across the beach. He expected to be inundated with beach sellers keen to tout new business.
Rosie had never been to Kenya and hadn’t experienced beach selling anywhere in the world before. She expected to be pestered the whole time by lots of different sellers.
There was only one thing for it: it was time to head to the beach.
As we set off for our first trip we had already been spotted walking towards the beach by a few sellers ready to greet us at the gate. We were approached by quite a few people, one after the other, for the first 5 minutes, selling everything from excursions to handicrafts. As we continued our walk we were joined by a couple of guys who walked with us, chatting, for almost 20 minutes before we suggested we would walk on alone.
The sellers’ approach was always very friendly, but we agreed it’s quite a culture shock compared to what we’re used to at home. Over the 2 weeks as sellers began to recognise us, their approach softened.
Rosie says: “although we were approached by lots of sellers, they were friendly and keen to welcome us to Kenya. Once we’d spoken to somebody and politely declined their sale, we were left alone, albeit greeted on the way back but this time in a familiar way, rather than being given the sales talk. After a while, we were just greeted with a ‘hello’ from sellers we had spoken to before and mainly left to enjoy the beach”.
Tom says: “from my point of view, it feel more organised than my last visit. The beach sellers were carrying ID, or wearing uniforms, and they were more friendly than before and happier to leave you alone after you’d declined their offers. They also tended not to give you the hard-sell on products and excursions that somebody else had already offered, and respected the other sellers who were first in line”.
So what do our customers think?
It was really interesting interviewing customers to hear their views on how the situation could be further improved. A lot of the guests we spoke to were repeat visitors who knew what to expect and weren’t fazed by it. Almost everybody we spoke to said they would consider buying from the beach sellers and made helpful suggestions, including introducing training in customer service, and organised stalls the sellers could trade from. Lots of people told us they felt the situation had improved over the last few years.
And what about staff and hoteliers?
We interviewed a whole range of people who worked in the hotels, including entertainment teams, bar staff, reception staff and hotel security. They see things from both perspectives as, as well as taking care of customers, many of them live alongside beach operators in the local villages and get to know them well. Lots of the people we spoke to commented on the improving communication between the hotels and beach operators, as well as the improving feedback from customers.
Lastly, we spoke to hoteliers to get their perspective. They’re crucial to this project as much of the training is conducted in the hotels. We were pleased to find they all felt the situation was improving, and were really engaged with the project.