Tourism crisis committee gets legal status after gazette notice published


(29th April 2014)

The recently announced tourism recovery committee is now a legal reality after the Kenya government gazetted its functions, life span and membership. Chaired by Principal Secretary Tourism Ibrahim Mohamed will the committee serve for 2 years, effective 17th of April and will have a mandate to deal broadly with the crisis the tourism sector finds itself in, largely as a result of absent, failed and misdirected actions by the past and present government.

Representatives of Kenya’s leading private sector associations are members of the committee, among them the CEO’s of the Kenya Tourism Federation, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, the Kenya Associaton of Tour Operators.

Regular tourism sources have welcomed the move but at the same time expressed caution about having too high expectations on the ability of the committee to accomplish a turnaround of the tourism sector’s fortunes, which have in 2013 declined for a second year. ‘This committee is not very likely to invent a miracle cure. Sad fact is that the Kibaki government was told point blank what needed to be done at the time to offset the negative publicity over the abductions in Lamu and Kiwayu. They did not listen and Mwazo [the then Minister responsible for
Tourism] proved to be utterly ineffective and in fact disruptive of industry efforts when he picked his fight with Muriithi [Muriithi Ndegwa, CEO
of  the Kenya Tourism Board who was
suspended and sacked by Mwazo and triumphantlyh reinstated by court]. The watershed for us was to lose Balala as our minister because no one fought for the sector as he did. The present government was also told what needs to be done but they were also deaf. Now that the situation has deteriorated to this low level, they come rushing and cry wolf. It is patently obvious that the ministry structure has failed the sector. We need our own ministry back. Then we have to reverse those silly creations of a half dozen parastatals under the tourism act which was nothing but a job creation machinery for the Kibaki coalition government. Form a tourism authority under which all those bodies are united. Most important, scrap the killer taxes on our sector which have outpriced us compared to our neighbours and other African destination. Then give KTB money instead of a pat on the back. They have plans, like they did in 2008, to engage in a major recovery campaign but without money that is not going to happen. 200 million is a start but if Kandie thinks we are impressed, let that figure go to 2 billion and we can talk. For now most of us just wait and see and hope that things happen fast and we are not wasting another year. Let them put the budget forecasts on the table now how much money tourism is getting. And finally, hands off our tourist board, we say categorically no to any attempt to merge KTB away’ contributed a senior figure on condition of anonymity, claiming that the incumbents simply cannot take criticism no matter how constructive it is meant.

Assertions that the downturn is largely caused by insecurity have also been taken with a grain of salt by the industry and while security and the perception about Kenya’s state of affairs does play a role, it is a range of other underlying factors which have sent the country’s tourism sector and in particular the Kenya coast into a dive. Proposals have been made of late about a reduction of Visa fees, as was done in 2008 following the post-election violence, permitting foreign airlines to fly into Mombasa, enticing charter companies from Europe to resume their flights by offering them incentives vis a vis navigation fees, landing and parking charges and a repeat of the so called mega fam-trip which was a huge success in 2008 and aided the recovery back then, propelling Kenya’s tourism arrivals and revenues in 2011 to an all-time high before government complacency then saw the successes evaporate again. Government targets for economic growth driven by the tourism industry have been missed by a wide margin for the first year since taking office and considering the run-up period needed to see a potential recovery take root there may be another year of sectoral contraction ahead before things can get better again. That however will require a fundamental change of heart and attitude by the powers that be with industry observers and pundits now looking on and reading the tea leaves and staring at crystal balls to somehow predict the near and medium term future of the sector. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from across the Eastern African region.

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