GOVERNMENT MUST ACT NOW SAY TOURISM LEADERS
(Posted 14th November 2013)
Open calls for the Kenyan government’s need to change direction and act to save the country’s struggling coast tourism industry are still few though a strong sentiment is building up over the lack of positive response to suggestions and demands made by the sector in recent weeks.
‘When our cabinet secretary speaks, we do not need more niceties and platitudes. We do not need more words about how well we are doing when we are doing very poorly now’ said a regular source from the Kenya coast when discussing the latest projections about job losses, potentially running into the thousands, should beach resorts and coastal hotels continue to suffer setbacks with low occupancies and significantly lower revenues compared to a year ago.
‘You were the first who clearly stated what should be done and a few have since then come out and also said what government has to do. We need more flights to Mombasa, scheduled and charters, because the present number of arrivals from abroad are not filling our beds. We need to drop those Visa fees for the time being like we did after the PEV in 2008 [post election violence] and truly, that official who mistreated you when you came for the Magical Kenya show should be sacked. We need to drop the biggest threat, the VAT on tourism services, because in the mid of our downturn we make ourselves even more expensive. THAT simply does not work very well, prejudice and poor perception about Kenya on one side and rising prices on the other. We need to allow the sector to access cheap loans to modernize their resorts because our international competition has not slept while we rested on our laurels. All those new parastatals should be brought under one tourism authority to cut down on administrative waste by duplicating all those administrative functions like Finance, HR, Admin and so forth. And frankly, President Kenyatta should divorce Tourism from East African Affairs and Commerce and form a strong ministry dealing with tourism, wildlife and environment because this set up we have does not work very well for our sector. We need a cabinet secretary who is solely mandated to look after this very crucial economic sector and not divide attention with other non related functions. The coast might be fully booked for Christmas and New Year but until then, and afterwards, the present booking trend is very alarming and we have not seen any light in our tunnel. Good words have been said but action is what is needed now. If tourism cannot perform better the entire economic growth plans of the Kenyatta government are coming into doubt because we were once the engine of growth and should be again, but not under the present impediments I just outlined’ mailed, texted and said in a phone conversation a regular coast based tourism stakeholder who had been at the forefront to lobby behind the scenes for a change in attitude by government.
Notably have now Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers officials at the coast started to speak out in defense of their industry and according to information received from a Mombasa based source has the chairman of the North Coast Chapter raised the spectrum when he outlined that up to 16.000 jobs were now at risk of being lost along the coast towards Malindi due to poor occupancies. ‘No hotel can stay open for very long with occupancies of 40 percent or below. First you delay paying staff and suppliers and then, when court action is threatened, you have no choice but to close down. We have seen resorts at the South Coast be closed and how many of them have made a comeback since? Once down you are most likely out for the count’ added the same source to provide further insight into the mechanics of low occupancies. It remains as usual to be seen, just how significant the impact of the present trend will be for coastal resorts and hotels but one thing is clear, that like in the past only decisive action and industry support can reverse this trend and bring about renewed growth for the sector. Watch this space.