Crisis? What crisis? Kenya’s tourism sector is not faring as badly as has been made out, according to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB). They “must be joking” says the owners of one of Kenya’s leading hotel chains.
Last Friday the KTB said that arrivals in Kenya over the first four months of 2014 were down four per cent down on a year earlier to a total of 381,000 visitors.
Four per cent down is not good but it doesn’t sound as bad as it was feared by many. However, TPS Africa which runs the Serena chain of hotels, luxury lodges and tented camps has disputed, indeed derided, the official figures for tourist arrivals, saying violent attacks by militant Islamists have scared away far more tourists than the authorities admit.
In a statement released at the weekend statement TPS Africa said: “We must be joking!”
COASTAL TOURISM DOWN “30-50 PERCENT”
The company’s own survey for the first half of the year, they say, showed business on the coastal tourism circuit fell by 30-50 percent on last year while inland trips to destinations such as to the Maasai Mara game reserve and Mount Kenya had fallen by 20 percent.
Tourism is a leading source of foreign currency for Kenya’s economy and the government has been trying to encourage the sector to grow and create jobs. But last year’s attack on the Westgate mall, followed by gun and grenade attacks at beach resorts, have prompted some western nations to warn their citizens against travel to parts of Kenya, leading to even fewer tourists at resorts along the Indian Ocean coast in recent weeks.
Arrivals in the same period for 2013 were themselves down on the previous year, depressed by the presidential election in March, which although it passed off peacefully had raised fears of a repeat of the violence of the previous election in 2007.
KTB “NOT IN TOUCH WITH REALITY”
KTB’s Chief Executive Muriithi Ndegwa said its numbers are for the period before a wave of deadly attacks on the coastal county of Lamu since mid-June in which more than 100 people have been killed.
TPS said the board’s statement was “not in touch with the reality on the ground,” adding: “We wonder if KTB and the Kenya tourism industry live in the same Kenya.”
“It is not business as usual – let us not kid ourselves,” the TPS group said.
IS MURETHI NDEGWA TRYING TO HELP?
Whatever the truth of the figures the Kenya Forum errs towards agreeing with TPS and this is not the first time that Mr Ndegwa has made an ill-informed public statement.
Writing in the Daily Nation on May 27 of this year (‘Kenya’s tourism will not only weather terror attacks, but recover and flourish’), Muriithi Ndegwa list all the problems facing Kenya’s tourism sector, from terrorism to poaching, to adverse travel advisories and competition from other destinations. By the time you had got through a third of Ndegwa’s article you wouldn’t have wanted to travel to Kenya!
KTB NEW LOGO – THAT SHOULD DO IT!
Fear not, was Ndegwa’s line, the KTB has launched several ‘key initiatives’, including a new common tourism logo for East Africa, and ‘joint participation at key international marketing exhibitions’. Mmmm… don’t think that’s going to exactly sort out the problem, says the Kenya Forum.
Another ‘initiative’, wrote Ndegwa, is the ‘Tembea Kenya’ plan to encourage Kenyans to ‘tour their own country’. Mmmm again says the Forum. That plan has never worked before and certainly will not work well enough to fill the thousands of empty hotel rooms along the coast this year or next.
IT’S GOING TO GET WORSE
As one tourism sector operative told the Kenya Forum, “This year there were bookings already made, some of which have been cancelled. The problem is that bookings for next year aren’t even coming in.”
Rampant insecurity in Kenya is a major problem. A tourist shot dead in Mombasa does not help. Terrorist raids in Mpeketoni (or whatever they were) don’t help. The destruction of Kenya’s wildlife is not helping and is a not too long-term disaster in the making. Adding VAT to tourist operators’ costs has not helped (except it has helped the Tanzanian tourist sector!). The fact that hardly a waiter on the coast knows how to mix and prepare a gin and tonic is indicative of the lack of training of tourist sector staff. And a bridge at Likoni would be useful (but then for how many years have we been saying that!).
They were not joking, says the Kenya Forum, but the KTB is a self-serving joke.