Travel skills: how to barter in Mombasa!

With the waves of the Indian Ocean rolling gently towards the shore, the sun shining magnificently above and coconut palms standing tall, a Mombasa holiday seems far from the flurry of urban commerce. However, appearances can be deceptive. I found out important lessons in economics; the holidaymakers looking for souvenirs of this wonderful country provide the demand, whilst the suppliers are the beach-traders – men and women who live and breathe enterprise. Whilst I do not in any way wish to minimise the poverty faced by many citizens of Mombasa, which I’m sure also extends to some of the beach traders, there are also entrepreneurs along the shoreline who have had their pitches for years and know their typical punters well. Bargaining power is equalised by the trade dynamics on the beach: wealthy tourists know that they want to take home a souvenir but don’t want to pay the inflated prices in the resort shops, so they wait until the end of the holiday to shop on the beach; the traders know what the tourists want, they know that they possess these desirable items.

Here come a few helpful tips to beach trading and bartering on the Mombasa shoreline:

• Be aware that your cultural background often influences the asking price. Mombasan traders are alert to Indian, Asian and North African holidaymakers who tend to drive the hardest bargains. Cultural stereotypes rule the trade dynamics of the beach; in western marketing terms, these traders know their consumer profiles. If you are European, Australian or American the goods will suddenly increase in value.

• Make sure you question the price they give you, and if you think it’s unreasonable make sure you walk away, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll approach you with a lowered price.

• The traders are true entrepreneurs and will assess both goods and money when negotiating sales. A T-shirt and a couple of English pounds can get you some fairly desirable souvenirs, but it is the branded items that promise the greatest purchasing power. If you really want to buy statues of Masai women, hand-painted safari pictures and decorated wooden salad bowls, then plan ahead by investing in some disposable Arsenal merchandise before your trip. Kenyans, I discovered, are football-mad! This is the only situation I can think of that will definitely tilt the balance in your favour as a prospective buyer.

Priyal Dadhania

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Image by Ken Wewerka via Flickr

2 Comments on this post.
  • Sambo
    20 November 2009 at 19:54
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    Good article.

    NB: Even if you’re of Indian descent the beach and street traders can spot the ‘GBR Medium’ stitched to the inside of your t-shirt or the Union Jack draped over your backside . My advise would be to travel to there with a street-wise local.

  • outer banks rentals
    10 December 2009 at 07:23
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    You need to have a good communication skills in bartering on mombasa, cause a lot of people there is what they called “BARAT”

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