Miscellaneous Ramblings by Tony Clegg Butt of Travel News – February 2015

Posted on February 12th, 2015
Categories: News






I’ve been suffering from writers block of late, and am battling to try and find a thread on which to weave this month’s Ramblings. So if we go all over the place – please remember that they are not called Miscellaneous for nothing.

To the coast for New Year, after a farm Christmas near Thika. The dreaded drive down was, on Boxing Day a doddle. The drive back slightly less so, but not as stressful as previously experienced – making good time, which could have been better without the on-demand comfort stops for the ladies of the family. As the sole male, I didn’t stand a chance

The coast was agony, not for its magnificence, but for the many closed or nearly closed hotels, empty rental houses and the general feeling of doom and gloom in the tourism industry there. What was very apparent was the growing-by-the-day unemployment situation in the greater tourism sector, to include those jua kali businesses that supply all kinds essential services. From vegetables to curios and so much more. Added to this not very happy scene were those still luckily employed but working vastly reduced hours, which of course equates to vastly reduced salaries.

You, might well ask the question – is there light at the end of the tunnel? The simple answer is no, unless you’re expecting the 5.15 from Nairobi. On a more serious vein, there are reports that the number of enquiries received from potential overseas visitors is on the rise – evidently a sure sign of good things to come. But we are coming from ground zero here, so any increase while welcome is but a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Let’s all hope for all of us in Kenya’s tourism that this trend continues.

I think the world now understands that most of Africa was not effected by the Ebola crisis – and its media driven hysteria surrounding it. But ask yourself the question, where were these people in geography class in primary school? Watching right-wing Fox News in the US informed to me that Africa, was, well a continent, not a continent of 54 different countries and that the whole continent was effected with Ebola. This was the same news channel that said Birmingham was a no-go area and that London was patrolled by religious police and not a safe place. Scarely Fox is the dominant cable news service in the US.

Security here, is still the only issue, plain and simple. Vast strides have and are being taken in this arena for which government and perhaps more importantly the private sector are to be congratulated. Given its perceived effectiveness, maybe that is the wrong turn of phrase – no incidents have taken place for all of the past 6-months, so a success no doubt. Long may it continue. Because of this I would reasonably expect foreign travel advisories being perhaps not lifted altogether but a toning down of language given all of the above should in the short-term see some easing.

While writing this column over the last weekend of January, up popped a Standard Media article on this very same subject.

Some of the highlights, if that is the right word, are as follows:

Kenya has lost 21,000 jobs in the tourism sector as investors close down hotels. The Kenya Association of Tour Operators revealed the shocking statistics that, which for the first time, paint the dim prospects of the hospitality industry.

East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie, confirmed that the number of workers losing jobs as hotels close down continues to increase every day. Hotel occupancy at the Coast, Kenya’s premier tourist destination, has dropped by 85%. At least 20 hotels have closed there. Hotels and lodges countrywide are now operating at between 15% – 30% per cent occupancy, with the worst hit at the Coast.

This dwindling number of holiday makers is expected to have a negative impact on the economy. Players warn of a total collapse of the industry, which employs more than 150,000 people.

“The situation is catastrophic and even after trying hard to improve the image, no meaningful results are being realised. The consequences are huge, workers have lost their jobs and investors have closed down hospitality facilities,” said Mike Macharia CEO, Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers. Macharia says some charter airlines have cancelled flights to Kenya and the effects have even spread to other sectors such as agriculture, transport and construction.

Kenya Tourism Board MD Ndegwa Muriithi, said the situation is challenging. “Yes the situation is dire, as a board, we have lined up a number of activities to assist restore the industry,” he adds.

Adam Jillo, President of the Kenya Tourism Federation the industries umbrella organisation and a member of the Consultative Tourism Recovery Strategy Committee formed by the Government last year, suggests that the Government should engage an international public relations and marketing firm to take care of creating a positive image of the country abroad.

Jillo observed that air transport is the most affected segment of the transport sector. “By having no clients the planes are flying empty, if there are no clients thy will be forced to shut down the destination that then without connections will not be able to promote itself and will be overtaken by other destinations like Zanzibar. That has taken away up to 90% of what was the Kenya Coast tourism market until three years ago,” said Jillo.

Due to the low hotel bookings, Jillo noted that agriculture producers are counting losses as demand for their commodities by the hotels has decreased. Tour operators as well he said are grappling with lack of business and huge loans to pay to banks.

Mahmud Janmohamed, MD of Serena Hotels, said the industry has been badly hit and requires all the actors to work together to restore vibrancy.

“Hotel owners are worried as they don’t know whether they will recoup as the harsh realities on the ground continues to bite. We are lost as we don’t know whether there will be light at the end of the tunnel,” said Janmohamed.

On the way forward, he advised that more efforts need to be applied to ensure the key international markets are restored.

CS Kandie constituted a tourism recovery task force headed by Lucy Karume, whose main objective was getting the sector back on its feet, is expected to hand over its report to the President next week. “We formed a task force last year to analyse the situation further and give recommendations as part of going forward.

Well, that little help from the Standard certainly helped with the writers block.

 To read more of this month’s Travel News Click on the magazine cover  TN Feb