Thursday, August 22

Tourism Invigorated

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On August 27, 2010, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga led thousands of Kenyans and foreigners,
including invited dignitaries, in the promulgation of Kenya’s new  constitution at Nairobi’s historic Uhuru Park grounds.

The momentous event, coming after Kenyans endorsed the new laws during the August 4, 2010 constitutional referendum, is part of the peace accord signed between the two leaders after the 2008 postelection violence sparked off by the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

As President Kibaki made a slow 360-degree turn with the signed document raised up high for the mammoth crowd present and millions of others following the celebrations on television to see, the whole world let out a sigh of relief. They hoped that Kenyans had finally laid to rest the ghosts of the 2008 chaos, which nearly knocked East Africa’s biggest economy off the cliff.

Like the giant national flag flying high on the northern side of Uhuru Park since it was hoisted on that August  ednesday morning, the new laws have triggered a wave of optimism that is sweeping across the country. This has stimulated the economy, with the perceptionsensitive tourism sector riding high on the wave of jubilation.

Purring with Anticipation
Kenya’s Tourism minister, Mr Najib Balala, says the new constitution offers great opportunities for Kenya’s future, as it provides for devolution. This will spur regional economic development and the exploitation of unexploited tourist attractions as the country’s 47 regions compete to attract tourists.

Balala says the new laws give Kenya an opportunity to reform the police and judiciary, as well as improve the political system of governance. “The reforms will strengthen security, bring political stability and provide checks and balances in the governance of the country, which is pre-requisite for tourism growth and development. The devolution of 15 per

cent of Government annual revenue to the 47 counties will go a long way to improve infrastructure and open up new tourism circuits,” he says. Even the usually skeptical private sector, which happens to be the key driver of the industry, has been left purring with excitement.

According to Mr Peter Wanambisi, a travel consultant with Palbina Travel & Tours Ltd, the passage of a new constitution has injected a sense of confidence into the tourism industry following the 2008 chaos.

“The free and fair referendum and the way it was conducted is a turning point for Kenya as it builds its reputation and confidence among the international community as a law abiding and politically stable nation, which could attract many tourist arrivals as it guarantees safety to the visitors,” says Wanambisi.

The Knock-on Effect
Ms Agatha Juma, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Tourism Fund (KTF), the industry’s private sector umbrella body, says the new constitution is pro-business, which will benefit all businesses, including tourism. “A friendlier business environment will not only benefit tourism and related businesses, but also the accruing economic growth will lead to increased domestic tourism,” she says.

The benefits from the new laws are expected to be felt across the country, since the knock-on effects of tourism are usually felt across most sectors of the economy. Therefore, growth in the tourism industry will see playersin manufacturing, farming, motor vehicle manufacturing, oil and energy and even the small and medium enterprises sector reaping huge benefits.

Citing the new law’s Bill of Rights chapter, which, among others, gives a right to every person to a clean and
healthy environment, Juma says the country will have better protected and managed tourist sites and cleaner
cities.

“We will now be able to conduct  our tourism activities without cowering in shame whenever a tourist asks if  the driver is using a short cut from the airport to a beach resort because of all the garbage and haphazard development on the roadside!” says Ms Juma.

Funding to the Fore
Better still, funding for tourism development and marketing is also expected to increase as this will now not only have to come from the central government, but also from the counties that believe in the potential of tourism for overall development.
Funding has been an ongoing issue for the industry, and even the government appreciates that additional funding is needed if Kenya has to effectively compete for the elusive tourists. For instance, according to the Kenya Economic Report 2009 prepared by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), a government policy research and analysis body, the country spends too little on the industry.

Looking at budgetary allocation for tourism marketing in 2005, KIPPRA says Kenya spent Ksh 432 million (US$5.4 million
at the current exchange rate of appx. Ksh 80 to the dollar), South Africa allocated Ksh 5.6 billion (US$70.2 million), Egypt Ksh 3.8 billion (US$48 million) and Tunisia Ksh 3.4 billion ($43.1 million). Although other factors may have
contributed, during the same year, Kenya received only 832,000 visitors by air compared to South Africa’s 2.1 million, 6.7 million for Egypt and Tunisia’s 4 million visitors.

A Bumper Year
Additional budgetary allocation could supplement the effect of the new laws. This is understandable coming at a time when the industry is projecting that it will not only match its best year, 2007, in terms of a million visitors arriving in Kenya, but also the Ksh 65 billion it earned by bringing in a whopping Ksh 79 billion this year.

This takes into account the exchange rate because in 2007, the US dollar was trading at about Ksh 65 compared to the current rate of about Ksh 80. “The upsurge in arrivals has been necessitated by positive factors that have boosted the country’s image, including holding of a peaceful referendum in August,” says Mr Jake Grieves-Cook, the chairman
of the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB), the statutory body charged with the responsibility of marketing the country as a tourist destination, and also Managing Director of Gamewatchers Safaris Ltd.

A big hike in revenue will be a clear signal that the sector, Kenya’s third largest foreign exchange earner after  horticulture and tea, is finally free of the woods, since it will be an improvement on the Ksh 62.46 billion it fetched in 2009 from 950,000 visitors.

The 2009 performance was an improvement from Ksh 52.71 billion and about 729,000 visitors in 2008, when the post-election violence and the global economic slowdown hit the sector hard. Pulling Together But the players must  invest in the sector if they hope to increase their earnings from the goodwill generated by the new laws.

“We should take advantage of  the new laws by addressing various challenges facing the industry so as to not only attract more visitors, but also impress them so that they make repeat trips to Kenya,” said Mr Wanambisi.

Ms Juma of KTF says the industry, especially conference tourism, is already showing signs of growth. However, it is hampered by inadequate infrastructure in form of conference facilities around the country. “Some of our  accommodation facilities are in need of upgrading, while development of such facilities
in counties that have traditionally not benefited from tourism, but have the potential, will unlock our unexploited
potential,” she says.

In this regard, governmental bodies should seek ways of empowering the communities to develop and manage tourism enterprises so that the industry’s benefits trickle down to the common man and woman – well beyond collecting land rent and having a few members of the community employed in lower level cadres.

She calls on both the central and county governments to take tourism  seriously because of the social and economic benefits it can bring to the country

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