Two steps forward and then three back ? Kenya’s coast’ dilemma !

SECURITY CONCERNS HAVE TUI HOLLAND CANCEL KENYA HOLIDAYS

(Posted 08th June 2014)

It is like going forward two steps and then sliding back three’ commented a regular source from the Kenya coast when news broke that TUI Holland / Arkefly were suspending their Kenya programme until further notice over expressed security concerns for their tourists when visiting the country. ‘Two weeks ago the Italian charters resumed flights to Mombasa. Everyone was hopeful that this could be the signal for others to take a fresh look at Destination Kenya. Now Malindi and Watamu have more guests again but promptly falls the hammer again when TUI Holland made their announcement. Our security chiefs are hopeless, they should be replaced by more capable individuals, but just like for tourism and conservation, this government is quite deaf when it comes to such fundamental issues. That series of incidents down in Lamu county shows that there are serious lapses we need to look at, and the two incidents in the old part of Mombasa tell the same story. The VAT on tourism services is still there. We started a petition against that, thank you for signing it also, but unless there is a fundamental policy change at the top this will not bring much. No one listened about allowing more scheduled flights into Mombasa which could bring some relief. The private sector is willing to support airlines through joint sales missions. Look at Mauritius, they have a million tourists and no charter flights and Emirates flies there twice a day including one A380 flight. Look at Seychelles, they have no charter flights and they have 250.000 tourists in a country with just 85.000 people. Visa for Mauritius are easy to get or not needed for many of their main tourist source countries and Seychelles requires no Visa at all. And what does Kenya do, retaliate against South Africa which has been the largest source of tourists from Africa beyond our own neighbours. Now they have a cumbersome process to go through and where do they go instead? To Zanzibar where South Africans need no Visa any longer.

We need to start looking outside the normal box now. When the charters stop coming, there must be alternatives for people to come here. Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines have stood out from all the other big scheduled airlines. But why do they have traffic rights and for instance Qatar Airways does not. Did they not want to fly to Mombasa too? The Gulf could be a big market for the Kenya coast if we had nonstop flights or combined flights via Nairobi. Losing TUI Holland is a blow but at least for now TUI Germany is still keeping Kenya on their list of destinations. I have followed some of your articles about those Vanilla Islands talking to the cruise lines to start Indian Ocean cruises again. There was a time when we had 30 or 40 cruise ships a year landing in Mombasa. Now you can count them on one hand. Why don’t we talk to our island neighbours and find ways and means to get Mombasa included in the cruise programmes? They stop over for a day or two, go on safari to Shimba Hills, Tsavo and Amboseli or fly to the Mara, that is very high end business.

What I am saying is that when your regular source for tourists starts to dry up you have to explore new ways and means but that requires some fundamental changes how we conduct business’ lamented the same source, echoed by others in shorter comments too.

(Cartoon from a Kenyan newspaper aimed at the Kenyan Inspector General of Police after one too many gaffes)

Meanwhile have coast tourism operators thrown their weight behind local sports, entertainment and festival ideas to promote coast holidays among Kenyans from upcountry, neighbouring countries locals’ and expatriates and tariffs have hardly moved upwards since the low season, keeping rates low to make them affordable for such visitors. RwandAir continues to fly from Kigali to Mombasa and flights by Jambojet from Nairobi are, if booked early enough, hardly more expensive than VIP or Executive Class bus fares to Mombasa. Added promotions by Jambojet, offering rebates, are presently on the market and apply to their lowest fare of 2.950/- Kenya Shillings one way, all taxes included, if booked well ahead of the travel time. Transport from the airport to the city in Mombasa then are available on a Jambojet shuttle bus for just 200/- Kenya Shillings per person and several resorts then offer their own transport to pick up passengers from their city meeting point, or even the airport, at a nominal fee or free of charge.

The lifting of the night drive ban for busses has also seen more frequencies operated by Kenya’s leading bus companies, paving the way for even middle income Kenyans to afford a trip to the coast and from feedback received are local tourists nowadays treated with just as much respect and friendliness like tourists from overseas, a noteworthy change at least in some resorts. The ongoing school holidays in Kenya will also no doubt result in families taking time out and visiting the coast, where from top rated 5 star resorts to self-catering apartments and holiday lets accommodation is available to suit all pockets, some on the beach while others are off the beach but within walking distance.

Challenges clearly remain for Kenya’s tourism gurus to sort out and it has to start with providing a safe and secure environment for visitors, those from overseas just as much as for local and regional visitors. A few weeks ago a Mombasa based source took exception when the local newspapers reported that thousands of police and other security personnel were drafted into Nairobi ahead of planned political demonstrations on the 07th of July while at the same time there was a notable absence of boots on the ground at the coast, both tourism police units and regular police. The source back then said: ‘… and when I last visited Kampala I was impressed with the police and army patrols everywhere, the same in Kigali. Visible presence is a big deterrent but our security chiefs are chasing phantoms and like Don Quichotte fight windmills so to speak. They should focus on providing security to wananchi and stop diverting manpower and other resources against political opposition’.

Meanwhile, in a related development, will in a week from today, on the 15th of August, major commemorative events be held between Voi and Taveta in memory of the victims of World War I and it is hoped that this will also provide a boost in visitor numbers, not just to the lodges in the area but also for the hotels in Mombasa.

Watch this space for regular and breaking news updates from across Eastern Africa.

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