SKAL DECISION LEAVES KENYA’S TOURISM INDUSTRY REELING
(Posted 16th May 2015)
Skal, or so I thought, prides itself to ‘Doing Business among friends’ but when the news came through yesterday that the organizations big wigs voted to pull the Skal Congress from Mombasa’s beaches this coming October, it became utterly clear that they were not willing to do business with their Kenyan members.
The two Kenyan clubs, Nairobi and Kenya coast, had worked tirelessly to first being considered as a host country, then voted for two years ago to stage Skal’s annual showcase event and then preparing for what for the clubs in Eastern Africa was to become the Skal event of the decade. Tens of thousands of wo/man hours went to waste the moment the Skal International President announced the decision to strip Mombasa of its right to host the 2015 congress. As of yesterday is the much awaited ‘Congress on the Beach’ no more, dealing yet another blow to the Kenya coast’s tourism industry.
Skal International President Salih Cene, and the Skal Executive Committee now hold the dubious reputation to be the first Skal leadership to cave in to terror, handing victory to villains and spitting in the face of the 1994 Skal theme ‘Tourism Is Peace’.
Peace through tourism clearly was not ranking high in the small, fearful and clearly intimidated minds of those who made the decision and voted to kick Mombasa out in favour of the Spanish Costa del Sol.
Kenya’s tourism industry has been reeling from what must amount to be among the harshest anti travel advisories by former colonial masters Britain, swiftly followed by some of their close international allies. In politics it is apparently normal to kick an opponent in the head when he is down. It is also a tactic of street fighting hooligans to kick an opponent in the head to make sure he stays down for good but this was clearly not expected by Kenyan Skal members, who were left in utter shock since the news broke yesterday, that Skal should kick them in the head while they were down.
I can already hear the yapping of those Skal powers that be, about their duty to protect their members but the words of Cene sound simply too hollow, quoting that section of the mail to the members: ‘Given the continued insistence of governments to place travel advisories to specific areas of Kenya where the Congress was to be held the Executive Committee and Chair of the LOC have agreed to postpone the congress and that Kenya will relook at holding a congress in 2018’.
This of course is a transparent attempt to twist the UK’s anti travel advisories to suit the purpose as it has been suggested that the Kenyan government was quite happy to provide police escorts for delegates from the airport to the congress hotel, and other hotels and venues, and back to the airport again.
Cene then continued, adding more salt into the wounds of the organizers of the now cancelled congress at the beach: ‘On behalf of the Executive Committee and the membership I would like to extend my deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the Local Organising Committee and Skålleagues in Kenya (Nairobi and Kenya Coast Clubs) for their tireless work over the past three years and more importantly for their compassion and understanding in the decision to postpone the 2015 event. I urge the wider membership to remember their actions and to support their bid for the 2018 Congress’. Frankly, the word Bollocks came to mind when I read that meaningless utterance.
While the Kenyan Skal leadership may put a brave face on, after learning of the decision, perhaps diplomatically already looking at the carrot dangled in front of their eyes that they may yet get the congress back for 2018 – considering the cowardice of yesterday’s announcement there is no certainty though that this in fact will happen when the vote is called at the congress in 2016 – is the membership at large absolutely seething with anger and frustration and more than a few choice words were shared with this correspondent over the past 15 hours since the news became public knowledge.
Taking further into account that the Africa Travel Association will hold its 40th anniversary congress in Nairobi later this year, and that the Kenya Tourism Board will stake this year’s Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Mombasa, for which hundreds of visitors from abroad are expected as hosted buyers, invited media and exhibitors, is the Skal decision all the more incomprehensible. Or was there, as has been suggested from international contacts, some bias against Africa per se involved – for sure one cannot rule that one out give how the world hounded us over the Ebola outbreak which was further away from East Africa than from Europe. Europe, Spain included, had several outbreaks while, thankfully, East Africa was spared from the spread of the disease.
When looking back over the terror attacks on countries with a strong tourism industry, and attacks on soft tourist targets, from the Luxor massacre to the most recent attack in Tunis, has Skal always stood up to express solidarity with those countries. In Kenya no tourist centres have been hit by terrorists since the Kikambala incident a dozen years ago, mainly because resort security has been stepped up significantly.
Many Skal members have as a result of this decision expressed their disillusionment with the organisation. When I joined the Skal Club of Nairobi some 37 years ago, the late Norman Jarman was chairman then if remember correctly, Skal was a global organization dedicated to ‘amicale’ and doing business was not on the agenda, in fact discouraged. Since those record membership number glory days have things changed however. When Skal membership numbers began to dwindle was doing business among friends made a core value, and yet did membership numbers continue to slip. Two Kenyan Skal members, using literally the same words, accused the Skal International leadership to lack backbone and the courage to stand up to the villains and handed them a vote of no confidence.
In contrast did former Skal International President Uzi Yalon do exactly that, showing backbone and courage, when in October 1994 he handed me his personal gift, a peace dove, the plaque on the stand reading ‘Peace is Tourism’. He attended the charter gala night of the Skal Club of Kampala, chapter number 611, which I founded and got off the ground during the preceding one and a half years. I wonder how Uzi, who as an Israeli citizen and former soldier and who knows all about terrorist threats, voted when the question was posed to him. I am tempted to think, knowing him as a man of principle, that he stood by Mombasa but then was very likely outvoted by cowards and people thinking of possible law suits, modern day appeasement artists of the likes of Chamberlain who in 1938 failed to stare down the monster, instead blinked and we all know how that worked out.
We were sponsored by the Skal Club of Nairobi and have always maintained close ties with our neighbours, and at least on our solidarity they can count. The clubs in Kenya are our brothers and sisters and their loss is our loss here in Uganda too. I am not sure how other Skal members in the region will react, but I, who was made a life member of the Skal Club of Kampala several years ago, have had it.
I have always taken pride to be a Skalleague and proudly displayed the membership badge I was handed way back in 1978. Back then, and until now, it was a privilege. Now, it no longer is. I will be writing to the Kampala Skal President to tender my resignation from the club, not because of the friendship I enjoyed there for many years, but for the failure of the international executive to stand up against the evil of terror and for failing to set an example.
It may mean nothing to them of course, why should they bother with a single member, but at least I can look in the mirror and not feel the shame they should feel but definitely do not.