KENYA TOURISM: UNCHECKED INEPTITUDE
Exhibitors attending the annual International Tourist exhibition (ITB) in Berlin which began on March 2and ended on 9 March returned to their respective countries to evaluate the benefits of the strenuous marketing week.
The Travel Trade show is the largest world-wide, bringing together tour operators, hotels, travel systems, suppliers, carriers even potential travellers. This year 11 thousand exhibitors took part, some under the auspices of governments or established companies. Kenya is one the first African participants with a permanent stand since 1970s.
Kenya’s Tourism in Brief;
Kenya tourism industry is as old as the Kenya-Uganda Railways which became operational in 1903 after reaching the port of Kisumu two years earlier – while the work on the rest of the circuits continued.
The ubiquity of wild animals along the construction route, especially in Tsavo, where a large number of Indian and African labourers were mauled by lions is believed to have lured British hunters to the country.
The combination of demand for game trophy abroad and the abundance wildlife brought hunters as well as sightseeing visitors. The sea port of Mombasa was the main entry and exit point. The number of visitors increased with the commencement of passenger services. The first flights of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) is said to have landed on the Lake shores of Kisumu in 1932.
The 2nd world war, 1940-1945 fought along the flight path, and the demand for planes to ferry soldiers temporarily reduced the number of flights to Kenya. The lifting of the State of Emergency in 1960 paved the way for independence negotiations to start, and saw the flow of visitors stabilise.
As the colonial capital, Nairobi was the starting point on the itineraries to the game parks in East Africa. With a handful of tour operators – United Touring Company (UTC), Abercombie & Kent, Pollmans and Archers, all of them foreign owned, Kenya became the first country in sub-Sahara to have the “monopoly” in tourism industry, eclipsing South Africa’s larger game reserves, isolated due to apartheid.
In 1967 African Safaris Club stormed Kenya’s coast with German, Austrian and Swiss tourists with charter flights putting Germany market second to Britain. The Swiss based company was not only the pioneer of the budget flight but also served as the economic stimulus at the Coast – a company this writer had the privilege to be part of its managerial team.
Every aspect of tourism trade was promising and growth steady, it was just a matter of time foreign exchange earning accruing from the hospitality industry eclipsed that of Agro-Export products.
Reports indicate cross border tourists contributed to the Ksh. 97 billion Kenya earned in 2012/13 financial year while international arrivals dropped by 8.8% placing tourism industry second largest foreign currency earner from Diaspora remittance. At Coast it contributes 60% of its GDP.
This phenomenal growth convinced the government to hive off the department of tourism from the Ministry of National Resources to establish a fully-fledged ministry.
Clad in khaki short trousers, matching sleeveless jackets, and wearing hats, the drivers taking the visitors to such sojourns used the Swahili word Safari now in the English dictionaries.
Questions as to why and when tourism sector began to plummet can be traced to Government policy in the 70s. In a bid to generate higher revenues the government opted to compete with the private sector – hoping to dominate through monopolistic practice. The government established the Kenya Tourism, Hotels & Lodges Board (KTHL) to construct hotels and lodges, in effect, deviating from its responsibilities to bolster and consolidate the gains.
From a regulator, issuer of trading licences, and collecting levies, its decision to join a self-sustaining industry made foreign investors sceptical as to what the future portended. To its own detriment, the KTHL had little knowledge of the dynamics of the trade. It did not even venture to establish promotion centres at the market sources abroad.
Kenya Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees (CTDLT) alongside KTHL were all created in quick succession through Acts of Parliament, leaving the line ministry a former shell of itself.
Predictably, hotels, and lodges collapsed and the assets were disposed of cheaply in a non-transparent fashion. The then powerful Minister Nicholas Biwott, got rid of tourism ministry from his docket and the board chairman, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta was nominated to Parliament. KTH&L became Kenya Tourist Board (KTB), with Uhuru at the helm.
It was during this period the tourism ministry began to recruit young beautiful women graduates en masse and posted them abroad to sell Kenya with their charm. Unfortunately, it turned out a number of the ladies were handicapped by lack of language proficiency in non-English speaking countries and not acquainted with the cultural norms, social or economic system in their new environment.
In spite of the drawback, KTB retained them, occasionally shuffling the same officers from one country to another at a remuneration scale equivalent of diplomats. Negative tourism flow continued until another implausible decision was made in 2002 to recall the officers, leaving a vacuum hurting the trade today.
Marketing gurus in Nairobi then contrived a plan to market Kenya from Kenya to hoodwink the government that it would be cost effective than the original model. The officers traverse the globe participating in any travel related exhibition with tourism still on its knees. To date, the most frequent travelling state officials in Kenya are those of KTB.
The decision to appoint marketing agents abroad to bolster tourism 14 years ago is confounding. So far, 10 or more hotels at the Coast have shut down. The more recent closures involved Indian Ocean beach, Whispering Palm, Two Fishes, Diani beach and Jacaranda, to mention but a handful. The numbers of closures continues to rise.
The agent in Germany whose contract was discreetly renewed last year has again won another tender to market Kenya in Switzerland. But in their usual placatory and diversionary response to cases concerning the selected few, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission stated the Agent won the tender KTB advertised in the Daily Nation and Time Magazine last year, fairly and squarely. It defies logic how a single consulting company continues to be awarded contracts, yet clearly there are no discernible results and desired outcomes – how it got wind of the tender advertised outside Germany remains a puzzle
What is true is that KTB and their Agents are responsible for low bed occupancy in the country. At the Coast it has dropped below 50% as opposed to the 70 – 80% during high season. Some of the high end hotels are contemplating switching to low tariffs in order to attract domestic tourism. Already more than 2000 have lost their jobs.
It is believed appointments of high profile personality like Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta to head KTB inadvertently emasculated the tourism ministry; Ministerial policy statements issued by successive Minister is the same statement made by KTB, the difference is only in semantics.
None of the Ministers has questioned KTB’s tendency of venturing into countries with questionable potential to generate tourism for Kenya, without addressing the root causes of the precipitous decline in our traditional vibrant markets.
The enchantment of NARC’s election victory in 2002 led to a marketing frenzy. Dr Achieng’ Ongong’a, the former MD of KTB, touted a concept of going East. The KANU government shelved and cajoled NARC’s first tourism Minister Raphael Tuju into extensive forays into the former communist states. His successor, Mr Najib Balala picked up the script to continue with the expeditions.
KDA warned it was an effort in futility at a ITB Press conference in March 2008 and published the same on August 5 in the Standard newspaper.
It was naïve and folly to expect countries emerging from oppressive system of communism with imperfect policies that labour laws, length of annual leave, cuisines and income together with the distance are the determinant factors of the destinations to visit.
It is through this lens our marketing experts mistook Chinese government officials and investors traversing the continent for tourists, as was the case with Japan’s industrial evolution in the 70s when KTB mandarins ran helter skelter to woe Japanese workers entitled to only ten days annual leave.
Kenya’s dismal tourism trade is often blamed on isolated criminal and terrorism incidents experts believe is far-fetched and preposterous. The statistics released by Kenya Police recently will why.
In 2013, 30,285 crimes were reported and it is assumed the figures include stock theft, suicide and family feud.
During the same period South Africa’s Police factsheet show over 453,800 crimes were reported with murder, robbery, carjacking pegged at 120,820 and flow of visitors is now record high.
World reports describe Indonesia as a country prone to sporadic religion related violence linked to the Jemaah Islamia groups. The country has the highest number of Muslim world-wide and has endured terrorist bombing attacks since 2000 albeit intervals in 2006 – 8, 2010 – 13 all of which had little effect on tourism. In 2012 Indonesia registered growth of 5.1% with 8,044 million inbound visitors of which15% came from Europe.
Perennial demonstrations and the brute force of Police is known to paralyse business in Thai townships. Nevertheless, this has not deterred 26.7 million foreigners from exotic districts on the land last year.
What began as a domestic revolt in Tunisia in 2011 culminated into a tumultuous revolution. It engulfed the tourist hubs of the Arab north. Egypt, the home of the Pharaohs that hosted 11 million visitors in the years preceding the revolt, dubbed Arab Spring recorded a slump of 40%.
With two former presidents, Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi behind bars, the situation is likely to remain volatile for a while and further cancellations are imminent.
Morocco’s short-lived unrest had earlier in the year experienced a suicide bomb attacked in April. It capitalised on the ongoing rebellion across the borders and suffered a slight margin loss of 658,000 to reach the anticipated 10 million arrivals.
Tunisia is on the recovery path to regain its market share of 7 million of overseas travellers after losing about 2 million from its guest roll while Turkey’s tourist flow remains resilient despite the ongoing bloody street demonstrations. It posted $ 29,351 from 31 million holidaymakers last year.
As we have seen Kenya became the preferred choice of destination for hunters, leisure and beach visitors before independence. The combination of flora and fauna, exotic game parks, hospitable people and its geographical location gave it an edge over South East Asia, east and southern parts of Africa. With over 600,000 arrivals Kenya way above its competitors.
However, the glory is gradually fizzling out without even a prophylactic solution in sight. We are now in the league of Tanzania (for now) and the landlocked Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia or Rwanda.
It is not clear yet to what extent the fledgling travel business will deepen when Angola opens its doors to beaches and hotel for holidaymakers with subsidised charter flights.
Mauritius, a tiny island registered 964.000 tourists in 2012- over two third of its population of 1.2 million people. On its sightseeing itinerary are lizards, tortoise and exotic birds.
In what one might call tourist invasion, in 2012 the number of visitors from only seven countries namely, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, UAE, UK and South Africa stood at 97,523. Seychelles has a population of 90,024.
It was not until 1972 when Malaysia first established its tourism trade. In 1999 they invented the slogan of “Truly Asia” and recorded 7 million guests soon after. Last year, it hosted 25,720 million tourist thus, almost every second person was a visitor amongst the 28,400 million population.
However, it is worth noting that Malaysian economic growth is not in sync with its mode of governance. The leader Mr. Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on the eve of the plane tragedy.
It is evident the apartheid system is South Africa that ended in 1994 was an impediment to several areas of growth, tourism was one of them. During that period only 3 million people visited, most of them from the neighbouring African states.
South Africa joined the industry in grand scale in the late 90s. The rapid progress surge did not only surprised observers but the South Africans themselves. Delegates attending ITB in Berlin exuded confidence that the forecast of 14 inbound visitor in 2014 is not far fetched after making a remarkable leap to over10 million last season.
Tourism had become key plank of our economic growth having contributed Ksh. 97bn in the previous year. But reports emanating from various players such as airlines contributing to its growth is exacerbating the dire situation.
Edelweiss, a Swiss charter flight plying the route of Zurich, Kilimanjaro and Mombasa have announced plans to cancel Kenyan route citing lack of passenger demand. Virgin flight ceased to fly to Kenya from London in September 2012.
LTU came and went and Condor Airlines which has been instrumental in KDA’s tourism promotion programme is diverting more flights to Tanzania due to slump in demand for
Tourism Minister Ms. Phillis Kandie was quoted recently decrying the impending cancellation of direct flights between Kenya and Italy likely to pose a margin loss of 10% of Italians visitor.
The semi autonomous counties established under the new Constitution provides County Governments with economic instruments some of which are still under the purview of ministries of the national Government
Both the National and the County governments are charged with the responsibilities of wealth creation. Finance is key to achieving these objectives as outlined in Article 202 (1) thus “ the revenues collected shall be shared equitably among the national and county governments” and clause (2) stating the possibility of additional allocation which must be read together with Article 203 (e) expressing the importance of fiscal capacity and efficiency.
Sub- clause (i) stipulates “the need for economic optimisation of each county and to provide incentives for each county to optimise its capacity to raise revenues”.
In addition to tax collections the counties can invoke the provisions in Chapter Eleven to expand their fiscal base as stated under Article 185 clause (4) thus- “ A county assembly may receive and approve plans and policies for (a) the management and exploitation of the county’s resources (b) the development and management of its infrastructure and institutions”.
To achieve these objectives a number of state corporations must be placed under the ambit of the county governments and more so, those depending on the county resources for revenues.
Article 175 (b) stressed the importance of having reliable sources of revenues to enable county governments to govern and deliver services effectively. If read together with Article 202 (a) providing for county governments to borrow with approval and guarantee by the national government which Kenya Tourist Board cannot there is little justification why the management should not be left to the county governments that have multiple access to funds for development.
KTB in its current form and policy is not in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution and cannot pretend to articulate tourism policy framework mapped out at county government level especially where the sector is existential to the community and pillar to their economic growth.
With just a half of the Khs. 830 million allocated to KTB together with the counties’ own budgets the federations and associations of the stakeholders are capable of setting up sales oriented centres abroad to improve Kenya’s image and credibility in the traditional market source neglected over the years.
KTB has proved critics right with incompetence and absorbing or merging it with any government organ will not make it efficient. It has failed where others have succeeded. It is stuck in the old promotion principles in which marketing/advertisement and sales is a component and complementary to sales which requires one on one approach Kenya lacks.
Tourism ministry is the policy regulator and is held accountable for the woes retarding tourism growth, though theoretically, because it is at leadership where the buck stops.
Nimble minds may recall the emphasis President Uhuru Kenyatta put in tourism in his speech at the opening of the Eleventh Parliament in April last year that “ Our aim is to double the level of tourism in our country from 1.2 million where we got stuck for 50 years to 3 million visitors a year by 2017”. He went further and posed why Malaysia is able to attract 26 million a year and not Kenya.
The Deputy President William Ruto expressed similar sentiments at their inauguration ceremony at Kasarani a week earlier.
In his State of the Nation address this year in Parliament the President spoke of every aspect of economic plans including poaching but not a word on tourism, is he disillusioned like the rest?
By: Mickie Ojijo