Coast tourism suffers greatest threat to survival since 2008


(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.

4 Responses

  1. Kenya’s tourism industry needs to be more creative and think outside the box. I actually cringe everytime I see traditional dancers welcoming tourists at the airports. Quite frankly, that stunt is too old. Our curio shops stock the same carvings and kikoys from 30 years ago. Evening entertainment at our tourist hotels still consists of Maasai dancers and the customary band singing “Kenya hakuna matata.” Seriously, our tourism stakeholders should come up with new tricks to attract more visitors.

    The tourist of today has vastly different tastes from the tourist of 30 years ago, is much more knowledgeable about their destination and is very penny conscious. Today’s tourist wants to get more value for their money, after all, most of the countries our tourists come from are experiencing economic crises.

    Our hotels are great sources of economic activity and job creation. However, I have been to hotels, including some big names at the coast, where the interior furnishing looks like something from the 1970s. Why are more and more tourists opting for exclusive and private villas? The industry needs to conduct more research and find out the needs of tourists, instead of continually calling for the closure of the villas.

    Then there are overall national issues that affect tourism but which the tourism industry is powerless about. The government should do more about (in)security. Our streets need to be clean and orderly, public transport should run smoothly and cheaply, airports should be cleaner and more efficient. Cities should provide reliable clean water EVERYDAY, not once in a while. Electricity is a right, not a priviledge to be switched on and off sporadically. Issues of narcotics, especially at the coast, should be addressed.

  2. Let’s face it, the product at the coast is not able to compete internationally. Standards are low due to years of no investments. Prices are outrageous, especially during Christmas. Why would anyone in their right mind would pay in excess of 400USD for hotel like Whitesands (internationally they would probably get 3 stars at best) on a polluted beach. Driving through Malindi town the other day one couldn’t fail to notice huge piles of rubbish all over the town and also in front of the hotel entrances.
    The government is doing nothing except empty talk and self congratulating themselves on a product which simply isn’t competitive anymore.

    Last but not least the breakdown in security is so serious and if not addressed this will lead to further cancellations.

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