News have emerged from Nairobi earlier in the week that the Minister of Tourism announced to the sector’s main stakeholders that the ministry’s budget may be reduced by as much as 70 percent, which would impact severely on the financing of the KTB marketing budget.

Governments in the entire region are caught between a rock and a hard place at present, as the finance ministries are trying to make ends meet between shrinking tax and other revenues and the growing demand on spending, while the economies suffer from the impact of the global economic and financial crisis. However, tourism has the capacity to move all the East African economies forward on the fast track and out of recession, and in the face of shrinking arrival numbers in the region only sustained promotions and marketing in existing, new and emerging markets will allow to maintain tourist arrivals and in fact add numbers in coming months. Standing still, reducing marketing budgets and cutting activities would be the worst possible way forward and each and every country in the region would undoubtedly rue the lost opportunities which are the inevitable fall out when finance ministry officials run riot over the budgets.

Last year, following the lamentable political post election violence during the first quarter in Kenya, the KTB spent massively and the results were clearly visible at the time the global recession started to hit, that indeed arrival numbers had began to grow again and were on course to reach projected figures. Should Kenya, and other countries in the region, really opt to slash their marketing budgets – and the writing is clearly on the wall as the finance bureaucrats obviously do not understand the first thing how marketing spending and success in tourism are interdependent – it could spell doom for thousands of workers in the sector, may force hotel, resort and lodge closures and drag an already ailing economy further into the doldrums.
Meanwhile, continental powerhouses Egypt and South Africa are pouring tens of millions of extra dollars into their marketing budgets to cushion and offset the present economic slump by attracting tourist visitors to their shores, ‘recruited’ away from other prospective destinations spending less on marketing and hence becoming less visible in the market place.
It will be survival for the financially fittest under the circumstances or for those willing to invest and spend money in these challenging times for innovation, product development, asset upgrades and marketing, marketing, marketing. Watch this space as the regionally coordinated budget day draws nearer, when this column will compare the budget allocations for the tourism sector across the East African Community.