(New tourism minister Danson Mwazo [left] and the former office holder Najib Balala [right])
At the handover from Hon. Najib Balala who had fallen victim to party politics and paid the price for standing up against his chairman Prime Minister Odinga to the newly appointed tourism minister Danson Mwazo smiles were put on display for the cameras, but the words that followed made it clear that it was not business as usual at the ministry. Balala has already cautioned that 2012 would be at best a year of consolidation, following a record sectoral performance in 2011 with over 98 billion Kenya Shillings in earning and a record number of tourist visitors recorded at airports, the Mombasa port and land borders. The new minister was swift to promise he would ask the treasury for the equivalent of 5 percent of the sectoral annual earnings to be ploughed back into the industry for marketing, product development and for targeted sectoral support, a figure with could amount to 5 billion Kenya Shillings, if only the treasury would be able to follow this logic and comply. In past years, inspite of Balalas considerably persuasive skills, the Kenya Tourist Board always got less than asked for and had to adjust action programmes and visible presence from a global scale to existing, new and emerging markets selected for their potential to immediately pay back with significant visitor number increases.
That said, opportunities are there to target new markets as Korean Air is commencing flights into Nairobi in April as is the Gulfs third largest airline Etihad, all of which will do their own promotion and marketing to fill their seats and which will undoubtedly complement the efforts of KTB and the Kenyan tourism private sector. In addition will national airline Kenya Airways push ahead with a fleet expansion which will see new destinations in Africa and beyond come on line soon, which should also stimulate traffic and bring more visitors to the country. For now though, the new minister has his work cut out for him to restore confidence amongst the stakeholders, many of whom today at the launch of the e-Tourism Conference in Nairobi expressed strong sentiments about the change of guard at the helm of the tourism ministry at such a crucial moment in time, as the country counts down to a general and presidential election and struggles with sluggish market performances from the traditional markets like Britain, where a press release earlier in the week by Hayes and Jarvis painted a grim picture of forward bookings. Watch this space.