Pre-election blues for Kenya tourism prompts some harsh but true words


Finally his time in tourism is coming to an end. Too much of what he did was embroiled in controversy and the things which needed doing were not done. I cannot wait for a new government to take over and appoint someone capable as a minister for tourism, not from among politicians but someone who is competent and can do the job. Someone who understands tourism and needs no long education from the private sector and then he is gone and we start again. That is the benefit of the new constitution that ministers now must be technically competent to take on a portfolio and we from the private sector will make sure that only names go on the list the new President will and can choose from which meet the approval from the industry’ said a regular senior tourism stakeholder from Nairobi when discussing the final run in to the elections on March 04th and the new ball game awaiting the sector afterwards.

Outgoing tourism minister Mwazo, who never really made an impact, nor built a serious working relationship with the tourism private sector according to a number of well informed individuals in Nairobi and Mombasa, had a stormy term of office, trying to dismiss the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board before first being defied by the Head of Public Service and then defeated in court too, while on other occasions appointing heads of the new parastatal bodies without the legitimacy of a valid law, after he forgot to gazette the new tourism bill as required.

Mwazo also insisted that Kenya would enjoy another record year in 2012, but those hopes were clearly misguided as at the time the comments were made the data were out and spoke a language of downturn and reductions.

Tourism in the new government must be given a higher priority, higher ranking and better facilitation so that KTB can more effectively go to all corners of the world to promote the country. The new system of streamlined government with half of the ministries compared to now should also bring wildlife back into the same ministry, maybe even forestry as both elements are crucial to tourism. Ours is wildlife and nature based tourism upcountry and beach tourism in Mombasa and Malindi. Forests are important as you always make clear when you talk of Rwanda. Wildlife coordination with tourism has lacked under the past government when both ministries did often not see eye to eye and took decisions in isolation which disadvantaged tourism. We hope that a new Ministry of Tourism includes all those elements again so that one competent minister can coordinate wildlife conservation, forest conservation and tourism promotion and marketing under one roof. Additionally we need to have KTDC facilitated to help finance resort refurbishments. The coast has not seen any significant new number of properties other than Swahili Beach some 15 months ago but none before that for maybe 10 years. Beach resorts remain closed robbing Kenya of employment opportunities and beds. When properly promoted the coast should be full of foreign, regional and local tourists. But many resorts have stood still. They need to modernize, refurbish, even expand facilities. That has not taken place for too long now. Money has to come at affordable interest rates and KTDC is well positioned to take up that task.

We need to retain our well trained staff because many are going off as expatriates to the Gulf and even Europe and America. And we need to strengthen industrial training, vocational training by finally building a second campus of Utalii at the coast. We need better roads at the coast which has been neglected in comparison to the Nairobi metropolitan area. We need the bypass to the South Coast, a second bridge to the North Coast and we need that second international conference centre we have been talking about. We need the ministry to carry out a new grading exercise because the last valid valuation of hotel and resort services is now nearly 10 years ago after the most recent exercise was halted as a result of bickering and allegations of fraud and favouritism. We need the dedicated cruiseship berths at Mombasa port and we need more water and electricity supplies to facilitate expansion of the sector.

There is a whole stretch of beach between Ukunda / Msambweni and the Tanzania border which can be tapped into for new resorts. It takes infrastructure to do that. Our beaches are among the best in the world, our safari parks among the best in the world and really, what do we have to show for. In all these visionary things our current minister was clueless. He fought ego and personality battles instead on focusing on the future of the industry. We have sincere hope that all this will change when a new government has been sworn in’ added another source from Mombasa by email and call, showing what problems beset the sector, what the challenges are and what the solutions are to turn the tide and get Kenya ready to translate Vision 2030 into reality.

Currently there is a visible trend of reduction of occupancies in beach resorts but also on the safari circuit ahead of the general election on March 04th, and with no clear front runner, the two leading candidates are locked in a battle for numbers with both camps ‘stuck’ in the mid fourty percent margins, the scenario of a runoff election some weeks later raise the spectrum that there will be a very prolonged and pronounced ‘low season’ for Kenya’s coastal tourism businesses until finally a winner can be announced and take office.

Across the region there is cautious optimism that the elections will be conducted peacefully unlike in late 2007, when Kenya was rocked by nearly 3 months of post election violence, as apparently the powers that be in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi have given the leading candidates a clear message, to prevail upon their supporters in keeping the peace or else face the music when eventually a winner will take his chair among his colleagues in the East African Community.

From sources in Kenya it is understood that 8 days ahead of the elections security everywhere, especially known hot spots, is being cranked up, more personnel being deployed and more reserves kept than available in 2007/8, to ensure that the state has the capacity to swiftly and with overwhelming numbers react to any potential outbreak of violence.

While writing this from Kigali / Rwanda during an assignment tourism stakeholders here also expressed their hope and desire for peaceful elections in Kenya next week so that the region can enjoy economic advance and not see development issues sidelined by having to put out man made political fires which would affect the entire East African Community and beyond to South Sudan and Eastern Congo. Let Peace Prevail – and to find out, watch this space.