Kenya still got what it takes, wedding bells included


(Posted 03rd March 2015)

When the 2015 edition of the world’s largest tourism trade and consumer show, ITB in Berlin goes underway in 24 hours, will no doubt many of the Kenyan delegation look at the initials and quietly translate the initials into ‘IS TOURISM BANNED’ or at least being blocked by Western countries?

The harshest possible wordings in anti-travel advisories have been used against Kenya since last year, literally equating the country to a war zone and while indeed there have been security concerns and incidents – as much a concern if not more to Kenyans themselves and in particular the tourism stakeholders – the continued use of such language is now clearly misplaced and outdated.

After President Kenyatta a few months ago finally retired his two main security chiefs, an entirely hapless Inspector General of Police, risen in rank to beyond what he could manage and a Cabinet Secretary in charge of the security dockets equally deserted by good fortune and good judgment, and brought in more tested and seasoned individuals has the security situation markedly improved.

Many stakeholders from the Kenya coast think that the present anti-travel advisories are substantially overstating the present situation and have been for a while now. The resort bombing over the last weekend in Egypt – and there is broad consensus among Kenya’s leading stakeholders – had it happened in Kenya it would be worth three days of headline news on CNN and other global channels and a return to Kenya bashing. Said one stakeholder just before boarding a plane to Europe last night to attend ITB: ‘We all regret what happened in Egypt, because we all know what damage that can do. But to be honest, if that had happened in Kenya those smug diplomats residing in Muthaiga would instantly have taken to the microphones and given us the WE TOLD YOU IT IS NOT SAFE sermons. I have monitored what happened in Egypt and there is nothing like those prohibitive advisories they still keep in place against us in Kenya. If this had happened at our coast, our roof would already have come down on us and the carpet ripped from under our feet. Those people are not the sort of friends Kenya needs and my best bet they are just waiting for something small to happen. But is also shows that there is bias against Kenya and we get treated differently from other places where things also happen’.

The fallout has hit Kenya’s tourism industry hard, with scores of hotels and resorts along the coast closed and even national airline Kenya Airways has taken a beating when their loadfactors from Europe dropped as a result of the anti-travel advisories.

Starting to explore Kenya of course best starts with a flight on the national airline and my own hastily created slogan ‘Explore Kenya with Kenya Airways’ is not even too far-fetched. Through their partnership with KLM / Air France does KQ have access to a wide range of European and North American destinations and from Amsterdam, London and Paris can visitors reach Kenya while already experiencing Kenyan hospitality on board of the airline’s brand new B787 Dreamliners’ or state of the art B777-300ER’s. The latter aircraft even offers WiFi on board, allowing passengers to tweet about their inflight experience or post pictures taken as Mt. Kenya comes into sight against the rising morning sun. And once landed in Nairobi it is a short hop with the Pride of Africa to Mombasa, Malindi or Kenya’s lake side city of Kisumu, lake side meaning on the shores of Lake Victoria.

While many of my friends from Kenya will as of tomorrow battle against these false perceptions and will be hard selling and trying to fill their beds and the seats in their safari 4×4’s is the situation back home for many coastal resorts precarious at best and a cliff hanger at worst., courtesy of those crippling anti-travel advisories which show no sign of going away any time soon. Jobs lost create economic instability, not exactly what the West needs to happen in Kenya when in fact all systems should go flat out to support the country in creating more jobs and boosting the middle class, a guarantor around the world for political stability.

Defiant as ever however will this correspondent over the next two weeks travel along the Kenya coast, starting the tour with the church wedding of his daughter, a vote of confidence for Kenya – and in the process hopefully shaming a few individuals who constantly mouth off, from a safe distance of course, about a hidden agenda against Kenya and constantly adding negative twists to stories.

This trip, apart from marrying my daughter off, is to showcase that travel to the Kenya coast is safe, and certainly a lot safer than to many other destinations for which no such crippling anti-travel advisories exist or where the language used is much milder, almost apologetic while Kenya, for reasons best known to the power that be in the West, continues to be portrayed as a country nearly at war.

From Malindi to Mombasa, covering some of Kenya’s finest resorts and hideaways enroute, will over the coming two weeks features come in to show why we felt safe and confident to bring a wide section of the family, including those from Europe plus friends from the Gulf, to Kenya to celebrate, enjoy and to top it all then go on safari to one of Tsavo East’s acclaimed camps.

That all said of course, and at the risk of repeating myself, is it the time now for Kenya to charm her key consumer markets in Europe and proffer renewed friendship while hoping that the solidarity effect – if for nothing else but for the faithful and close cooperation over decades – will help to change mindsets among key tour and air operators in the UK and across Europe. A charm offensive can easily help to have those decision makers take a fresh look at cranking up ‘production’ for Kenya’s coastal resorts and safari lodges.

And, on a personal note, it is perhaps a lost opportunity for Kenya where, if I had a say, I would have been on President Kenyatta’s case to fly to Berlin too, stand by his tourism stakeholders and – for probably being the only ranking Head of State to visit ITB – be given not just the usual red carpet but the opportunity to work the media, and the global tourism fraternity with a charm offensive no one could withstand. Do his handlers even think that far one wonders? Who knows, perhaps my words sink in and this could be planned for another big tourism show in 2015, like WTM, even though much water will until then flow under the bridges, which urgently need rebuilding in the relationship between the West and Kenya. I rest my case. All the best to the Kenyan team in Berlin and of course also the other East African countries like my own Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, to tell the world that there is no Ebola in East Africa and that travel to our parts is as safe as to 99 percent of other places around the world.

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