Specialist operator African Safari Club has come under fire for failing to pay staff at its Kenyan hotels on time.

An agent, who did not wish to be named, said staff at the Vasco da Gama, Flamingo Beach and Dolphin hotels in Shanzu Beach told her and fellow guests of the operator that they had not been paid for up to nine months.

“Some staff members were protesting outside the Flamingo hotel while I was there, and all the guests got together to draw up a petition to help them,” she said. “Tourism is really suffering in Kenya but that isn’t an excuse.”

A spokeswoman for the operator admitted staff had not always been paid on time, but said its Mombasa office had made bringing wages up to date a “top priority”. The Club has cut staff from more than 1,500 before the political unrest in 2008 to 750 staff.

She added in order to keep as many staff as possible, African Safari Club has spent the last 18 months negotiating reduced payment plans, which have been accepted by staff and unions. Most outstanding payments have been made with staff again receiving regular wages, she added.

She said: “Every effort has been made to keep as many staff in employment as possible, many of whom have been with the company for a number of years. Therefore, our Mombasa office has advised us that during the past eighteen months, it was necessary for them to meet with the workers unions to agree reduced payment plans.

“Staff and unions have accepted these payment plans, which are being adhered to. Most of the outstanding payments have now been brought up to date and staff are continuing to receive regular wages.”

African Safari Club has been forced to close five of its nine hotels in Kenya after tourism suffered from political rioting in 2008.

Tourism Concern campaign officer Rachel Noble said cases like these had become more common during the recession.

She said: “Those at the bottom of the chain are often affected most when a company is hit by the economic downturn. Agents can ask to see a company’s code of practice, but they should be always be alert to stories like this from the ground.”

Professor Harold Goodwin from the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University added: “With UK consumers becoming more aware, and more committed to the principles of responsible tourism, there is brand damage if UK companies are seen to be condoning these kinds of practices.”