The completion of the Sh2 billion Kinango-Samburu Road by the Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra), has become a game-changer in the travel and tourism industry in Kwale County.
Stakeholders say this has saved time for the tourists while attracting more visitors to the South Coast, who have been preferring areas in Mombasa and Malindi due to ease of accessibility.
Kwale has most tourist attractions iat the Coast, including the magnificent Wasini Island, Funzi Island, Shimoni, Diani Beach, Beach Hotels, and Shimba Hills National Reserve among others.
Those visiting Kwale in the past have been forced to rely on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway, going through Kibarani, Likoni ferry to Diani, where they experience frequent traffic jams which cause delays.
However, travelers now have the option of branching off from the Mombasa-Nairobi highway at Samburu to the Samburu-Kinango road before connecting to the Kinango-Kwale highway.
Currently, the 53km Kinango-Samburu road is complete, while the 23km Kinango-Kwale highway is yet to be tarmacked.
"This is already a game-changer to us, especially in the travel industry. The tourists, who mostly like to go on Safari to Tsavo National Park, do not have to go through the Likoni ferry and through Kibarani where there have been endless road constructions," said Lofty Safaris Director Monica Solanki.
She added that tour vans have been using the road for a while now, even though a section between Kwale and Kinango is not yet tarmacked.
"The only problem comes during the rainy season when there is a lot of mud on the untarmacked road. But it is always okay to use it on all the other days. It saves our drivers' time. The good thing is that [most] part of the road from Kinango has been tarmacked," she said.
Tourists, especially foreigners staying in the Coast region for their holiday, usually visit national parks such as the Tsavo, Amboseli, Maasai Mara, and Nairobi.
Ms. Solanki said many of them had complained before of the time wasted in traffic jams and in Likoni awaiting a ferry to cross the Indian Ocean.
"That is why some would later prefer to stay in North Coast so that it is easy for them. The tourists do not usually have a lot of time and it is tiring; they want to visit all the places within the short period they are in the country and wasting hours on the road due to traffic was a disadvantage," she said.
Ms. Solanki said with the Covid-19 pandemic, most domestic tourists would prefer driving to the Coast instead of using air travel or public means, hence the alternative road for those who are visiting Diani would be a great gain.
According to Baobab Beach Resort Manager Sylvestor Mbandi, it will now take a visitor to the South Coast about an hour from Samburu, a distance that takes about three hours when one goes through Mombasa through the Likoni crossing channel to Diani.
He, however, urged the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) to hasten the completion of the remaining section of the road.
"The drive from Kinango to Kwale is a short distance but extremely rough. If Kenha can complete this section faster, it will truly be a game-changer to our businesses," he stated.
Contacted, Kenha Coast Deputy Director Howard Mmayi said the contractor has already been informed and will soon be on site.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, during his tour of Kwale last October, asked the highway authority to hasten the completion of the Kwale-Kinango highway.
"We could not start immediately because of the procurement processes. But now that we already have a contractor and consultant, once the works begin, they will be able to finish as soon as possible," he said.
Meanwhile, travelers still have the option of using the Kinango-Samburu Road and drive through the murram road to get to Kwale before connecting to the Lunga Lunga highway at Kombani.
For years, business people, high-profile visitors, and tourists visiting the Coast have had to endure congestion on the highway, especially at Kibarani where trucks from the Mombas port cause traffic jams.
The current construction of the Makupa Causeway and Makupa bridge has also been a hindrance to many who are either getting into or leaving Mombasa. Sometimes, tourists have missed their flights due to traffic snarl-ups stretching for two kilometres.
Ms Solanki said the road accessibility in Kwale is going to open the area for trade and investment opportunities such as agribusiness.
"Farming takes place in this area but it was very difficult for the fresh food to be transported to other markets due to the bad roads. This infrastructure has improved accessibility and we expect this side of the country to grow economically," she said.
The road will also ease overreliance on the Likoni ferry that used to provide the only key access to the South Coast.