Kenya’s tourism industry at cross roads as parastatal mergers will decide on a thumbs up or thumbs down future


(Posted 14th April 2014)

The announcement last week that the envisaged mergers of Kenya’s parastatal bodies has been concluded has sent shivers down the spines of many in the tourism industry, as the upcoming changes are seen as a litmus test for the Kenyan government to show either their support to the tourism sector or else make it clear that tourism does not really matter to them, apart from verbal utterances without meaningful follow up.

Nearly two dozen regular sources, commenters and contributors urged over the weekend for one final push, hoping to catch the eye of the powers that be in Kenya and perhaps see some sense emerge in the end which will benefit the sector and not submerge key functions into a new set up which will see tourism to be just one among many.

The last government created under the new tourism bill a number of parastatals, which many in the tourism industry now see for what it was, a job creation scheme for loyal followers of the two coalition partners but far from suitable for today’s needs of a tourism industry in decline.

Those parastatals should all be merged into one tourism authority where the tourism board is also at home. That way our sector remains stand alone even if the president has completely failed to understand the dynamics of the sector apparently. Tourism should have an own ministry in which related functions like wildlife, natural resources and even environment could be bundled together, all areas which are complementary and allow a far more holistic approach than then present government set up, which has fragmented these functions. For someone who once headed the KTB he shows a remarkable lack of understanding and to be frank, if the parastatal reform messes around further with our sector and drowns KTB in another entity, he will have passed a death sentence on tourism. When you go to tourism fairs they do not want to hear about investment opportunities, the want to hear that there is security, safety for tourists, water, electricity and rubbish collection function and the resorts are regularly upgraded to international standards. They want to see competitive tariffs and not be told that the latest tax moves by the government will now add VAT on the services. They want to hear that airlines are given incentives to fly to Mombasa, scheduled airlines given traffic rights. If tourism becomes a mere department in another faceless parastatal, I believe that we should brace ourselves for more bad times ahead’ was the contribution by one outspoken source and all other mails and messages received basically did say the same thing.

If you need reform, and no one doubts that there is a lot of wastage in government, bring everything tourism related under one roof. THAT is the best solution for our industry. We are fed up with their sunshine speeches and demand action as we in the industry need it, as we see it appropriate, not what some blind bureaucrats have schemed up without consulting us. If they impose solutions which are not suitable to our sector, they should not lament when the results are bad. They had a year as a government and all they did was mess us up. More taxes from central government, more fees and levies from local government, a bad image abroad, several very bad incidents which gave us nothing but negative publicity in our key source markets, that is what they can look back at for their first year. This government has not delivered on their promises towards tourism, and the poaching crisis is out of hand because they took their eyes off the ball and stared at the Hague, and I have no regrets to say that so bluntly. Does Kenyatta not get details from his hotel chief in Mombasa of just how bad the situation is now? Depending on what they announce in coming days, it will decide how the tourism industry will view them and if they can retain the votes for the next elections or not’ ranted another, fully reflecting on the mood of the many who are in regular contact.

Indeed, it seems to be crunch time for Kenya’s tourism sector and going by feedback from the coast, bookings for the Easter weekend suggest that there will be far too many empty rooms inspite of probably having the best occupancy levels for the next weekend since Christmas and New Year, but the low season thereafter is showing signs of a further drop in arrivals and resort closures are now looming for real with job losses feared by the hundreds if not more. Time perhaps, with the clock being the proverbial five minutes to midnight, to take a step back, take a fresh look at what tourism needs and have one final round of talks with key stakeholders before signing the mergers into effect. Watch this space.

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