Hoteliers mourn investor credited with Malindi's 'Italian invasion'

Franco Rosso who died on Monday in Switzerland. He will be remembered as a tourism pioneer in Kenya for supporting the country as a safari destination and for shining a light on coastal tourism.

Photo credit: PhotoI Pool

Stakeholders in the hospitality sector are mourning renowned tourism pioneer Franco Rosso who died on Monday in Switzerland.

Fifty-six years ago, Rosso and his late wife Amalia visited Malindi in Kilifi County on vacation, fell in love with the town and later settled there.

The couple is credited with pioneering the “Italian invasion” of Malindi and now, the foreigners no longer consider themselves tourists in this part of Kenya.

The Italian influence on local culture, lifestyle, economy and even politics of Malindi, and the larger Kilifi County, cannot be gainsaid.

The couple built their business empire with a chain of tourist hotels and the Italy’s renowned and leading tour firm, Franco Rosso International.

In a town of about 4,000 Italians and an estimated yearly tourist population of 30,000, Rosso’s Tropical Village on Casuarina beach became one of the most frequented in the town.

Thereafter, he built Diamonds Dream of Africa and the adjacent Coconut and Malindi beach hotel.

He opened the fourth property, Sandies Malindi Dream Garden in 2018.

Rosso died aged 94 in Lugano, Switzerland.

According to Plan Hotel Hospitality Group, he will be remembered as a tourism pioneer in Kenya for supporting the country as a safari destination and for shining a light on coastal tourism.

“He is the first person to launch Kenya in the Italian market 50 years ago with the first charter flight from Italy to Nairobi. He first came to Kenya in 1967, accompanied by his late wife, Amalia for a month-long vacation in East Africa and decided to invest in Malindi,” said Plan Hotel Hospitality Group public relations officer Yolanda Tavares.

She added: “On the Coast, he saw huge potential for travel to the warm beautiful beaches, especially in the winter months to escape Europe’s bitter cold.”

Today, Diamonds Dream of Africa is the continent’s leading all-inclusive resort, awarded in the World Travel Awards in 2021 and 2022 and was Africa’s leading beach hotel in 2012.

Malindi has morphed into “Little Italy” where the tourist resort is brimming with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops — billboards advertise in Italian, and even restaurant menus are in the language.

Many people there speak Italian — the Kenyan housekeepers, business people, beach boys and girls, fishermen, waiters and tuk tuk drivers.

The Italians in Kenya have the biggest European presence on the continent, and 90 per cent of them are in Malindi.

Quite a number of leading hotels and villas in Malindi are owned by Italians, with their investments over the years reinforcing local businesses.

Kenya Association of hotel keepers' executive officer Sam Ikwaye said East Africa has lost a renowned and respected investor who was passionate  about tourism in this region.

"His investment are a  manifestation of his passion and commitment in the Kenyan tourist and product offering.  By this, he was able to touch many lives directly and indirectly. We can honour him by doing our best to promote and protect investments and allow his legacy to live on," said Mr Ikwaye.