KENYAS TOURISM INDUSTRY DEMANDS CLARITY ON ELECTION DATES
Leading stakeholders in Kenyas tourism industry are getting more vocal now about the governments dragging out the announcement of an election date, due to be held later this year.
Following the collapse of tourism in the wake of the post election violence in early 2008 have in particular tour operators from overseas looked at contingency measures to avoid having tourists caught up in a similar scenario once again, especially as the last elections at the end of December 2007 coincided with the peak of the peak tourism season between Christmas and New Year. Said a UK based representative of a company sending thousands of visitors to Kenya every year on condition of anonymity: Last time we were caught unaware and by surprise, how violence started to spread. True, not one tourists was harmed as a result of the exemplary and extraordinary efforts of Kenyas tourism associations, KTB and KWS but it was a very difficult time for us to get our tourists safely home again. We have asked our partners in Kenya to seek clarification on the next election dates because there are too many conflicting statements in the media. We need to know if those elections are held before Christmas or like last time just before New Year and then we can discuss with our partners in Kenya how to go about it. From my perspective everyone in our business will be very cautious, some may in fact use the expected foreign office travel advisories for Kenya ahead of the elections as an added reason to go slow on promotions and have fallback positions. Look at the Maldives now, they are also suffering big time from the political upheavals but we were prepared because the indicators were all there. First their ban on Spas, then the huge increase on airport fees, then the overthrow of the President. We could shift traffic almost immediately to other Indian Ocean destinations like Sri Lanka, Seychelles or Mauritius. With Kenya it will be a similar scenario. The better prepared we are, the more swiftly we can react. Of course we will look at all options and scenarios to be sure that tourists are safe and if necessary can be evacuated in conjunction with our High Commission and our tourism partners in Kenya. What happened 4 years ago is just still too fresh in everyones mind and although Kenya has been superb in bringing tourism back to life and do so well, the election period is a time when I think everyone needs hope for the best but also to prepare for the worst.
Kenyas Tourism Federation but also trade associations like the Kenya Association of Tour Operators and the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers have in past weeks intensified their internal discussions with the aim of getting an early resolution to the election date, so that in the words of a regular contributor we can finally prepare and make contingencies for that week or two before and after the elections, especially after the elections.
It became also known that the chairman of KAHC, who is also the Managing Director of Sarova Hotels, Mr. J.S. Vohra, has earlier in the week called on government to finally announce a date when he was quoted as saying: We want the government to announce the election date because people are in limbo over the exact time when it would be held. This will enable us to get prepared. Other sources close to the tourist board were guarded over their own preparations towards the elections and their various promotional activities, nor would they readily discuss the various what if scenarios other than saying that they were preparing. Kenya will next year celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain in 1963, first Madaraka Day in June, when Kenya attained internal self governance before Uhuru Day on 12th December, when the late father of the nation Jomo Kenyatta led the celebrations as the Union Jack came down for the last time as a colonial power. Kenya intends to capitalize on the golden jubiliee with added marketing activities and is seeking to break the arrival and revenue records of 2011 and the announcement of an election date would come as a huge relief to the tourism industry both in Kenya as well as overseas.
From neighbouring countries official comments were also not available, though informal off the record responses all said in unison that it was hoped that Kenyas elections would be conducted in a peaceful manner and that tourism and aviation would not be disrupted as it could have a serious fallout on the entire region, much of which gets tourist and business traffic via East Africas main hub in Nairobi. Watch this space!