FALLING NUMBERS EXPOSE KENYA GOVERNMENT’S FAILURE TO SUPPORT TOURISM
Kenya’s tourism stakeholders, knowing what is going on better than anyone of course, have for a while been shaking their heads in frustration when hearing their tourism minister Danson Mwazo talk about new records being set for arrivals and revenues this year. Either misinformed, or outright misleading, Mwazo’s projections were either way brought crashing down when the latest figures released this week in Nairobi showed the real trend which was as expected down.
Overall, from January to August inclusive, arrivals to Kenya have declined by 2.6 percent year by year, reading 807.737 compared with last year’s 829.479. While Nairobi’s arrivals during this period actually increased by 2.1 percent from 672.372 to 686.265 the big blow was felt in Mombasa, where numbers declined by 22.4 percent year on year from 156.521 to 121.472. According to sources in Mombasa, many of whom have privately expressed their opinions that their current minister is not fit for the job, and for sure a faint shadow of former tourism supreme Najib Balala, who was sacked from cabinet for daring to tell his party leader a few choice truths about his style of democracy, this trend is set to worsen. July’s drop compared with last year was a staggering 29.9 percent while August’s drop stood at 24.9 percent, and that was before 1Time withdrew their flights from Johannesburg over complaints of sharply risen cost for flying into Kenya and a drop in demand following the negative publicity spread in the international media about the security at the Kenyan coast, often telling stories far from the truth and divorced from reality on the ground along Kenya’s Indian Ocean beaches.
‘Why are you asking when you know the answers’ said a regular source yesterday afternoon in a phone conversation before continuing on condition of anonymity: ‘1Time withdrew, Air Berlin said they will not schedule Mombasa after the high season, the flight by that Czech airline is going. Qatar Airways did not bother to start their daily flights in August on which we banked because our government messed with them over traffic rights. First verbally granted and then willfully withheld were the rights to fly between Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, forcing them to route that added flight via Dar. Then the Dar to Mombasa route which Qatar wanted rights for to combine the two destinations. You yourself wrote that Mwazo had to eat humble pie when the Qatar Airways Vice President came to Kenya to get to the bottom of this but to no avail. Was it worth to object to this and as a result the country lost flights? It took only two weeks after that truth was out to have Brussels Airlines change their mind and also announce they would not start their planned flight to Mombasa. Those were blows to us at the coast. We hope Turkish can make up to some extend when as you reported they will fly via Kilimanjaro to Mombasa, which seems to bring leisure travelers to our region. But for now everyone is scrambling for business looking at Air Uganda from Entebbe or RwandAir from Kigali and Ethiopian coming directly to Mombasa. They are now offering better network connections if I get you right and could have the potential to bring more visitors to the coast, which will be good and slow down the decline, I don’t think we can look at a reversal until way after our elections next year. That is the next big issue for us, elections next March before the high season ends at Easter. And before you ask, of course we are concerned considering what happened in early 2008’.
Other stakeholders had in the past repeatedly complained about their ministry not living in the same world or seeing reality through pink shades as one of the more vocal contributors had put it at the time, but the fact remains that the ministerial proclamations are far from reflecting reality. ‘We said time and again we need more funding for tourism marketing. When you see a trend like this you give your tourist board funds to react, go to new and emerging markets like Russia, the Middle East, India and of course China. Mwazo failed to make any impact in cabinet for our funding. He failed to stem the tax man from wanting to add VAT to our services for foreign tourists. Our tourist board has probably the most competent board members in ages and has motivated staff, good plans but lacks money. The allocation in real terms, considering the inflation we had since last year, amounts to a net loss of purchasing power of over 20 percent. What we need is an increase in marketing funding by 20 percent in real terms.
But the formation of all these new parastatal bodies is eating up money we should use for marketing, selling Kenya abroad. There newbureaucratic jobs are created, new fiefdoms for political patronage established instead of centralizing tourism functions under one tourism authority. THAT would be a significant step in the right direction, centralize it not fragment it further. Things at ministry level have just gone haywire and the rushed appointments of boards for these bodies by Mwazo was also another bad decision because the law had not been gazetted at the time. Mistake after mistake and speeches which give wrong facts. It is time our tourism leaders and the associations stand up now and be counted. We elect them to speak up for us. There should be more like Hersi [Mohammed Hersi is the outspoken
chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist
Association] but the hotel association and others maybe are too keen to be politically correct these days. Time as we say to let fly, stand up, shout out what is wrong and get remedies for it. Tourism should be Kenya’s engine out of poverty but without putting fuel in it that engine cannot run’. Strong words indeed but when looking at the figures almost entirely understandable and justified. Will things change, will Danson Mwazo listen and understand as his predecessor Najib Balala did? Time will tell so watch this space as all eyes and ears will be trained on Utalii House in Nairobi and the reaction of the minister to the latest data now available in black and white.