NAROK TURNS TO KATO AFTER MARA TICKET SALES LOGISTICS CONTINUE TO DOG THEM
(Posted 20th August 2013)
The termination a few weeks ago of the revenue collection deal between Narok County and Equity Bank, still a matter of a bitter legal dispute between the two parties, exposed the soft underbelly of administering the Masai Mara Game Reserve and collect entrance fees. At the time it was reported that a number of tourists and safari operators, with prepaid funds on the smart cards in use back then, were subjected to hardships of having to pay up again, while being promised refunds, but it is understood from a reliable source in Nairobi, that not all such cases have been settled yet, leaving those affected to bemoan their bad luck to have cash tied up by the county, unable or unwilling to pay up.
Meanwhile though it became also apparent that the Narok County administration was facing a tsunami of logistical problems to administer ticket sales and account for the revenues accrued. It was in fact those ‘leakages’ found out in the past which had prompted the council back then to sign a deal with Equity Bank, following which revenue collections accounted for rocketed, an indicator of how bad the situation was pre – smart card days.
A regular source in Nairobi has now sent in details that Narok County has engaged with the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, reaching a preliminary agreement on sales of entrance tickets for the Masai Mara, whereby members of KATO can purchase tickets needed for safaris from the association offices, with payment however only permitted by bank cheque.
‘If these guys employ thieves and therefore reject cash payments, it is their problem, not ours’ ranted one regular contributor however in response before continuing: ‘To get a bank draft or bankers cheque takes time and costs extra fees. Mostly I am concerned about the time issue because this is high season and tourists can come any moment into our sales office and buy a tour and want to depart within the hour. If our drivers cannot pay at the gate in cash, what sort of customer service is that from Narok. True, I still have an issue with some of the prepaid money from the Equity days but as long as our bank notes are legal tender they are quite mad to reject payment in cash. They also do not use credit or debit cards at the gates and are therefore making life difficult. What about self drive tourists who hire our cars and drive to their lodge in the Mara. Do they have to get a bank draft also? It is almost like a hotel or restaurant telling you that payment has to be done by bank draft because their cashiers are stealing? How much does one have to inconvenience visitors just because they have thieves in their ranks they suspect of siphoning off the cash’.
From added information at hand it appears that Narok County staff are now camping at the KATO offices where they sell entrance tickets, against bank drafts only, showing how the county government is still short of a comprehensive approach towards managing one of the country’s biggest tourism attractions. ‘With such failures no wonder there are demands coming up again to have KWS manage this resource. Narok may have invited new tenders to design and implement a collection system but that will take time. Until then they should open every avenue to sell tickets in Nairobi, in Narok and at the gates. Imagine a guest on self drive who intended to stay two nights decides to stay for four or five because of the spectacle of the migration. When leaving those guests will have to pay for the extra nights. They carry travelers cheques and cash and credit cards and are then held for lack of a bank draft? Those officials have no clue of all the implications of their decisions. I also say give it to KWS and they remit a fair share to Narok because this is unacceptable’ added yet another regular reader.
It is hoped that lessons will be learned and swift adjustments be made to the collection mode to ensure that as many visitors as possible can actually get into the Masai Mara and are not kept away over the issue of cash versus bank draft or bankers cheque. Watch this space.