Once elegant and bustling with life, Paradise Beach Hotel in Kikambala, Kilifi county, is a pale shadow of its former self.
Eighteen years after a terrorist attack that left 15 people dead and more than 80 injured, the hotel, which used to boast of more than 100,000 international tourists every year, is deserted, with only guards on the lookout for vandals.
The white lobbies and dining halls are vacant, with a few rusty and broken chairs and tables.
Beds without mattresses are lying idle in the more than 600 rooms.
The attack sapped life out of the Israeli-owned hotel.
Corroded chandeliers hang from the ceilings.
A vandalised bar, massage tables, spa rooms and broken gym equipment are a reminder of the attack that brought down the once-loved hotel. The compound is bushy and littered with coconut fronds.
The plunge pools and jacuzzi are filled with smelly greenish water.
The main swimming pool is dry and littered with trash.
The decaying doors and rusted padlocks are proof that the rooms have not been used for years.
Once among Kenya’s top tourist destinations, Paradise Beach Hotel has suffered a decline since the al-Qaeda terrorist attack.
On November 28, 2002 a suicide bomber detonated explosives while two others drove past the barrier at the gate and crashed into the hotel’s reception, detonating more bombs.
The raid disrupted the operations of the hotel, which was popular with Israelis, Germans, the French, Italians and other Europeans.
The attackers killed 12 Kenyans and three Israelis.
The Kenyans were members of a troupe performing a welcoming dance for the guests.
The attack also disrupted the flow of Israeli tourists to Kenya and the continent in general.
Gradual decline in international tourist numbers following more attacks on the Kenyan Coast and subsequent international travel advisories dealt further blow to the hotel.
Simba Group Kenya chairman Yehuda Sulami says the hotel has struggled to stay afloat since the bombing.
He says with Paradise Beach Hotel unsuccessfully attempting to bounce back to profitability, the management took the decision to sell it.
In an interview with the Nation, Mr Sulami said the attack appeared to have scared away international tourists.
“The beach hotel solely depended on foreign tourists,” he said.
The terrorist attack resulted in the scaling down of charter flights from Europe. One flight could bring in up to 270 guests. The flights were later cancelled.
“With no charter flights from Europe, our business collapsed,” he said, adding that Arkia Airline, which used to fly tourists to the hotel frequently, stopped the Mombasa route when one of its aircraft narrowly escaped a missile attack.
Terrorists had attempted to bring down the plane full of tourists but the ground-to-air missile missed its target.
Before the attack, Mr Sulami says, the hotel served as a second home to more than 100,000 foreign guests.
“The bed occupancy for more than seven years was purely foreigners. When they stopped coming, the business started dwindling. That’s how Paradise Beach Hotel collapsed,” he said.
The management has used more than Sh300 million on renovations since the attack, but this has not brought back foreign tourists.
“We will remain this way until an interested party buys the hotel. We’ve lost hope in the hotel and tourist business in Kenya. The interested buyers need to know that the hotel is ready for operations,” Mr Sulami said.
Paradise Beach Hotel is on a 20-acre parcel and just 300 metres from the Indian Ocean.
“We tried local tourists, but were greatly disappointed. There was no money. It was not worth it. That is why we took the painful decision to sell the property,” the Simba Group chairman said.
Mr Sulami adds that despite international tourism being one of the main government revenue sources, State authorities offered no help to enable the hotel bounce back
“How I wish we got such help! We wouldn’t have put the hotel for sale,” he says.
Mr Maurice Mung’oma, a hotel guard who escaped unhurt during the attack, and one of the men still hired by the hotel, says the day will forever be etched in his mind.
A man and his son, who hosted al-Qaeda terrorist Mohammed Abdullah Fazul — believed to have coordinated the bombing of the hotel — are serving life in prison.
Mahfudh Ashur Hemed and his son Ibrahim Mahfudh Ashur were jailed on two counts of being accessories to murder by harbouring and maintaining Fazul so he could escape punishment after the 1998 and 2002 terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Kikambala respectively.
They were also fined Sh10,000 each or serve six month jail terms in default for sheltering Fazul at Silversand estate in Malindi.
Fazul was in Kenya illegally from December 2007 to August 2, 2008.
While jailing them, the court said it did not believe the two did not know Fazul “yet there were Friday bulletins with his picture and stories on the suicide bombers”.
The two have filed an appeal against their conviction and sentence at the High Court.