COAST RESORT OPERATORS BLAME GOVERNMENT FOR LACK OF VISITORS
Let me be very specific here so that there is no mistake on what I say. It is the government which has denied KTB the funding needed to do the job, and although KTB should do more with the resources they have, there are limitations. Their budget in real terms buys perhaps 25 percent less compared to last year because of inflation. If we still had Balala as our minister, things could be different, but the one we now got is just a peacock really.[At this stage the source categorically
insisted on not being named but allowed the quote to be cited here] He failed to fight for a better tourism budget and just enjoys his limo and office before he is gone again at the next elections. Tourism deserves better. Besides low tourist numbers we also have issues with the finance bill trying to make tourism a VAT item, which will increase the cost for visitors and yet not enough money is being given back by government to promote tourism. KTB last week confirmed that numbers in Mombasa are down a lot compared to last year, by over 20 percent, but our colleagues here talk of way more than that. Something has to change if we are not going to return to 2008 and because of elections and the Somali situation our circumstances are far from ideal as it is said a regular source in a communication from the Kenyan coast, citing overwhelming disappointment by industry stakeholders associated at the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association. He quoted that MCTA chairman Mohammed Hersi, gave the present performance a 6.5 out of a possible 10, a far cry from the 10 out of 10 when Kenya broke all records last year, before Islamist terrorists from the Al Shabab group in Somalia, attacked tourists and resorts at a distant stretch of beach near the Somali border.
Another stakeholder, requesting anonymity inspite of his top seniority in the industry, pointed out that now is the time to invest in product innovation, upgrades of hotels and resorts and a complete review of the way guests are entertained and looked after, to copy the methods of 5 star destinations like the Maldives or Seychelles. When you write about the resorts in Seychelles for instance, that is the quality we need to restore in Kenya. We need to incorporate the lessons from others and need to learn what they do to bring their own numbers up when everyone else stares at losses this year. Mauritius is down, and they are wondering what went wrong there, Mombasa is down too and we know what is wrong. The product is tired, we need to move from the 70s and 80s into the next decade of the new millennium. That requires government support with investment incentives but with elections coming, I do not see that happen this year, so that is a year lost. Tourism has to lobby now already not just for adjustments in budgets for this year but for the next few years ahead.
The upcoming COMESA Tourism Forum in Nairobi will undoubtedly be a suitable platform to discuss the various approaches and the future of tourism in the trade block and it remains to be seen what recommendations the COMESA Tourism Forum will make to the private and public sectors to move the industry ahead and anchor it firmly as one of the key engines of economic growth amongst member countries.
For now though, tourism stakeholders at the Kenya coast are disgruntled and are getting angrier by the day, demanding immediate counter action by KTB and the Ministry of Tourism. Watch this space.