TOURISM RECOVERY – THAT ELUSIVE GOAL
(Posted 07th March 2015)
Just ahead of the final phase of preparations for ITB 2015 did the so called ‘Tourism Recovery Task Force’ hand in the long awaited report and recommendations to Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie who is now due to hand it over to President Kenyatta upon her return from Berlin where Kenya, alongside her East African partners, is exhibiting to woo those elusive tourists back to the beaches and into the safari parks.
Kenya’s once thriving tourism industry has over the past two years seen a massive reversal of fortunes, no where as visible at along the Kenya coast.
Scores of hotels have closed down since the crisis struck and tens of thousands of people, in direct employment but also down the line in secondary and tertiary employment generated by tourism, have lost their jobs.
With even some of Kenya’s award winning resorts struggling to reach break-even occupancies has speculation set in when the first bank will make a move towards foreclosure amid fears that such a step could trigger a domino effect. ‘If this were to happen it would only compound an already very difficult situation. We all know it is a daily struggle to juggle those balls in the air and balance income with expenses. The tax man wants his piece of flesh from us, the county council often act as if we’d swim in money, the electricity and water companies threaten to cut us off if we don’t pay the bills, the suppliers have long started to delivery only against cash payment but still wait for previous deliveries to be paid and of course the staff must get their wages. We are in dire straits. If banks chose to bring in a receiver it will not answer the fundamental question where the business should come from. To the contrary it might accelerate final closure. What took our government so long to understand what is going on is frankly beyond us all to understand. Business started to slow down way before the last elections already and the previous government failed to listen and put money into recovery marketing. The present government made it worst by heaping more taxes on the sector and playing deaf to our pleas for help. 2013 was not good, 2014 was very bad and it took us that long to make recommendations? How long will it now take for those, and then maybe only some of the measures to be taken? We all worry that 2015 may be the worst year yet and before you know it we approach another election year. The time to take counter measures has long passed and what is left now is to pick up the bits and pieces and find it in us to survive, somehow. The new markets the government has been harping on about are far from filling the gaps the European markets left. Niche marketing for Golf and other specialty tourism products is a valid point but will equally take time to fill our beds. What we need is to bring those countries on board which put travel advisories in place against us. You put it very aptly that Kenya needs to go on a charm offensive. Let our politicians eat humble pie if that is what it takes to save our industry. But let them also remove VAT from tourism services, reduce park fees, reduce Visa fees, open the airspace into Mombasa and invest in marketing. And I side with you that they should create a strong tourism authority and not keep those fragmented small parastatals the last government created to create jobs. Mind you, most of those do not even have boards in place so what the heck was or is this government doing? Promising so many or so many hundred millions no longer cuts it when the money takes forever to reach KTB. That money was needed like last week and yet here we are waiting for the President to be given the report. We need fundamental change in the attitude towards tourism and it has to start at the top I am afraid. We want our own ministry back and we do not want rejects to be considered for cabinet secretary’ ranted a regular source over mail, message and phone when asked to give a take on how the grassroots of the tourism sector view the present dilemma before delivering a parting shot: ‘And why not publish the report immediately, what is the big secret about it? Let’s put the recommendations in the open so that we all can read and see if there is enough beef, if they called a spade a spade or if they pussyfooted around the hot topics’.
When Kenya’s tourism stakeholders return from ITB 2015 and post ITB sales missions will no doubt be more light shed on the immediate and medium term future. Security along the coast has in recent months significantly improved and combined with unprecedented low tariffs – some hotels have already indicated that they will retain their current rates into 2016 – and a keen desire to please the tourists and give them a holiday of a life time should this provide a winning formula to lure larger numbers of tourists back to Kenya.
This correspondent will over the next 11 days continue to speak with and interact with stakeholders along the Kenya coast between Malindi and Mombasa, get a feedback from the grass roots and share the findings with the readers.
As the saying goes here, watch this space.