Bomas of Kenya plans shot down in flames as bureaucrats beat a hasty retreat


(Posted 17th January 2014)

Tourism ministry officials were again left with egg all over their faces after it became clear that their announcement of ‘imminent plans’ to build several hotels and leisure facilities at the site of the Bomas of Kenya in the Langata suburb of Nairobi were wildly premature.

When it became obvious, that neither a feasibility study had been undertaken nor an Environmental and Social Impact Statement produced, nor the national environmental management authority been consulted, a wave of first incredulity and then sharp criticism was heaped on the individuals responsible for making the utterances.

Overnight it became known that the ‘plans’ were hastily withdrawn, giving in to public pressure from various sides, not just the tourism industry. Civil society advocates immediately denounced the project for lack of consultations, environmentalists added their voices for what some called an assault on a pristine forest environment at the fringe of the city, forming part of Nairobi’s ‘green lung’ while tourism operators questioned why they had not been invited to discuss such wide ranging plans, apparently hatched by bureaucrats trying to score brownie points and ending up having to eat quantities of humble pie.

The Bomas of Kenya site overall is reportedly covering some 80+ acres of prime land, held in public trust by this parastatal body, necessitating a wide range of preparations and legal hurdles to be passed should land be hived off for ‘development’ as is now being suspected. Hospitality sources too poured scorn over the plans as it emerged that the bureaucrats were peddling a 7 star hotel to be constructed, while according to the International Hotel Association in Paris presently only 5 stars are formally acknowledged, though the Burj Al Arab in Dubai is widely accepted, along with the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, to be the first super luxury hotels likely to meet 7 star criteria when the rule book has been re-written.

I wish some of our fellows would stop shooting off their mouth. Whom are they going to impress with such impulsive utterances? Now their plans have been laid to waste and the public will be watching them with hawk eyes to see what they are really up to. If they want to carve out Bomas land, they will be facing the law because surely there will be elements which are questionable and can be challenged in court’ wrote the source who passed on the information over the past two days, serving notice of intent that Kenyans are no longer ready to tolerate unilateral dictates and the rape of national resources by a few individuals without opposition. The tourism ministry in particular had come under sustained pressure over the past weeks for their apparent lack of taking the input from senior stakeholders on board vis a vis the revival of the tourism industry, in particular at the Kenya coast, and failing to stand up for the sector vis a vis tax increases and fee hikes which threaten to derail medium term growth forecasts after failing to reach targets in 2013 as Kenya is seen in many markets now as out-pricing itself.

These news came hot on the heels of other information, that the budget of the ministry was to be substantially cut, some sources speak of in excess of 20 percent according to details leaked to tourism stakeholders, who are now preparing to use stronger language to remind government of its commitment to grow the sector, attract 3+ million visitors and accomplish a doubling of revenues during its term of office. ‘We have been having increasing doubts on this government’s honesty when it comes to tourism. [President] Kenyatta who once sat at KTB as chairman seems to have forgotten the fundamentals of how to promote and grow tourism. It is not by heaping VAT and fees and other taxes on the sector but by giving the tourist board the money to promote the country. Kibaki failed us big time when they just let things slide ahead of the election period and in the aftermath of the invasion into Somalia. This government follows the same footprints, giving tourism a cold shoulder when it comes to KTB budget and there is deafening silence to proposals made how to reinvigorate coast tourism. What do they think people will do when thousands lose their jobs? They will never vote for them again. They should concentrate on Kenya’s issues at hand and not waste time in Holland’ ranted a regular source with the latter reference clearly aimed at the ICC court cases against both President and Deputy President at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

What is obvious from many comments received following a series of related article over the past few months, that indeed the honeymoon between tourism private sector and their ministry, if not government at large, is well and truly over and that stakeholders pay less and less attention to the sunshine statements coming from the cabinet secretary, described by another regular contributor as ‘failing to acknowledge the reality on the ground’.

As always, time will tell where this is heading but for sure will Kenya face a host of challenges to resolve before growth for the tourism sector can resume and the industry can prosper again. Watch this space.

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