Miscellaneous Ramblings by Tony Clegg Butt of Travel News – January 2014

Posted on January 8th, 2014
Categories: News






The tourism doldrums are not a happy place to be. Unhappily, Kenya finds itself in this position for a variety of reasons.

The safari circuit operators, lodges and camps report in the main that the upcoming holiday season will hopefully turn out to be better than expected. However, expectation levels are at an all-time low, so something of a worry; but the big concern is what is going to happen in 2014?

The coast is all in all a very sad situation, with hotels closing down, charter flights cancelling their services to Mombasa and occupancy rates at all-time lows. There is a lot of erroneous information out there, one of a campaign yet to be defined with no obvious funding, which says it will generate occupancies of 70%, which is even a tough ask of the festive season. My friends in the hotel industry at the coast say this will never happen.

Add to this misery the application of value added tax to some tourism products and services to include game park fees. Additionally, Kenya’s newly devolved county governments needing to fund their own existence are seen to be further taxing the goose that laid the golden egg – tourism. Levies per bed occupied or otherwise per annum have been proposed in Mombasa County as a way to raise funds. Some suggest these funds will go to promote tourism in the County, but that is no sure thing.

I thought I’d never have to ask this question: How important is tourism to Kenya, and does government appreciate its contribution to the national coffers?

Sometimes you have to say not. The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) has lost most of its government funding to bolster other cash strapped departments of government. When the tourism industry most needs it, there is no budget to market the country – to keep it front of mind in its primary source markets. To retain traction you need to spend, even minimally, as once traction is lost it takes a far greater financial commitment to get back up to speed.

Look at Egypt, arguably in a far worse state than Kenya, yet their tourism entities are keeping their country’s image front and centre with a combined PR and advertising campaign aimed mostly at European tour operators, and through them to the travelling public.

When times of plenty return, Egypt will be streets ahead of Kenya, and in the interim might pick up much needed incremental revenue.

Out of sight IS out of mind.

Going back to my question, I do not see any real acknowledgement from government that tourism is good for Kenya. It is almost like government sees it as something that has always been there, and that it will always be there. Good days, bad days it is always assumed to self-correct. So why throw a pile of cash at it, when it has always bounced back on its own accord. For the record, it has never ever bounced back on its own accord – for too many years the tourism private sector has for obvious vested interests invested heavily in promoting Kenya to its source markets.

To them the kudos, but they cannot do it on their own. Government has to recognise the benefits of tourism to the country: taxes, employment and a massive contribution to the country’s bottom line.

I’m writing this from the departure coffee shop at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s Terminal 3, all back to normal and working well. But why do they have two almost back-to-back baggage and personal scanners? One directly as you enter, the other ten paces further in (I measured it) as you enter the departures area. Security is paramount of course, but don’t you think this is a little OTT?

I was in Mombasa to celebrate Skal Kenya’s winning the organisation’s World Congress for 2015. We were met airside off the plane by the Governor no less, a full-house press conference followed. I was excited that they were all so excited.

Central government hasn’t really woken up to the fact that getting this Congress is a very big deal. Tourism’s big-wigs from around the world coming to Kenya is massive in my usually humble opinion.

A fast VIP convoy – what a way to go – followed to Treasury Square and the Governor’s office. The lovely old building which is right next door to Fort Jesus was looking fantastic. I’ve not seen a government building looking so magnificent and functional. More speeches followed, an exchange of flags, much pomp and circumstance and then it was back to the airport, sadly this time without police outrider.

Flights on Kenya Airways in both directions were on time every time, with the flight from Mombasa even arriving early. As always happy to be home.

To read this month’s Travel News online: click on the magazine cover  TN Jan