Kenya government finally wakes up to tourism sector problems


(Posted 25th January 2014)

Earlier in the week news broke that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto will be carrying out a performance review for each of their cabinet secretaries – formerly known as ministers – in a few months after the first full year in office, to establish how far they have reached in accomplishing the expressed goals of the ‘Jubilee Coalition’ which the two men formed at the start of the campaign for the 2013 general elections.

The tourism industry was among the priority sectors tapped by the two leaders to spur economic growth during their first term of office with a declared target to double revenues from the previous high in 2011 of 100 billion Kenya Shillings to 200 billion Kenya Shillings, raise arrival numbers to 3 million in the intermediate term and attract additional investments for the industry in the hotel and conference sector.

However, the targets for 2013 were missed by a wide margin amid a growing chorus of complaints and concerns, if not outright opposition of late to what large sections of the tourism industry said was intransigence at best and being ignored and sidelined at worst by the government. VAT charges were heaped last year on tourism related services, driving up the cost for a number of products by 16 percent amid additional levies and taxes by the newly constituted county governments, further draining the sector of the cash needed for investing in expansion, modernization and innovative technologies.

Finally it seems has the coin dropped however, that the government might not only lose the race for hearts and minds of the tourism industry but also their race to meet the sectoral targets and a first reaction was reported yesterday that a ‘Consultative Tourism Recovery Strategy Committee comprising 9 members has been launched but Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie. On board are Kenya Tourism Federation Chairperson Lucy Karume, the Chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers J.S. Vohra, Kenya Association of Tour Operators Chairman Adam Jilo and coast tourism icons Chris Modigell, representing South Coast stakeholders and Roberto Marini representing Malindi’s interests while Watamu stakeholders will be represented by Philemon Mwavala. Non tourism sector members are Donald Kipkorir and Cecil Miller while from government Muriithi Ndegwa, the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board will be a member.

The committee met yesterday for its formal launch by CS Phyllis Kandie and for its subsequent first sitting, giving the sector hope that finally the growing concerns will now have an avenue and platform to formulate strategies and an action plan leading to a recovery some time in 2014.

The tourism sector had just ahead of Christmas submitted an extensive list of measures to be taken by government to aid sectoral recovery and it is expected that all the issues on that list, and more, will be looked at now in order to find ways and means to turn the downward trend around.

This was long overdue’ said a regular Nairobi based source before adding ‘The open threat by the President to sack cabinet secretaries who do not achieve results for their sector surely in part triggered this decision to form such a high powered committee. But then, our CS is probably smart enough to know where she has failed until now and saw the writing on the wall herself. We need to decrease our cost burden first and foremost, facilitate KTB to have enough funds to really roll out a global campaign and stop the rot like when they had to cancel their presence at the Arabian Travel Market for lack of funds, and put measures in place to have the charter airlines return to Mombasa. I am not sure if an open stakeholder dialogue will be held but already the committee has put out feelers to gauge opinions from across the industry. I think a stakeholder forum is a must so that we have an open dialogue and also that government can see the strength of the sentiment which has built up over the past few months when really nothing was done to meet the concerns. Lets give them a chance and see what they come up with but for them too now the clock is ticking. Tourism needs results and to accomplish those KTB needs money. KTB must also not be merged with other non tourism bodies and I hope that this committee can also find a way to reverse the fragmentation of the tourism public sector administration and get a single tourism authority underway instead of having 5 or 6 separate bodies which eat up resources by duplicating all the back of house functions. Those bodies were proposed under the Kibaki government for job creation and to award loyal foot soldiers with appointments to the boards, but now we need a streamlined, proactive and well facilitated single body to instigate new growth. That also by the way includes to have a single ministry dealing with tourism, wildlife, natural resources and environment and not one where tourism is part of an otherwise very busy ministry dealing with East Africa and Commerce. Remember however, this committee can only propose action, not cause action to be taken which function is still with the CS and the rest of government and that is when we will see if this government is serious or not. Well they have their work cut out for them and good luck’.

No feedback could be obtained by the time of uploading this article but it is expected that details of the first meeting will emerge soon, in part to consult and in part to brainstorm, before the second meeting of the ‘CTRSC’ or as one other source already nicknamed it ‘CoToReSC’ goes underway in a few weeks. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from Kenya’s tourism sector and the region at large.

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