The tourism sector was dealt a major blow following the disputed December post poll chaos.
The unprecedented wave of violence led to massive cancellations of tours booked for the first quarter of the year, which incidentally is the sectors peak period. International press painted the picture of a burning country and western nations slapped travel advisories on Kenya.
On the day presidential results were announced, I was in Nanyuki accompanying some French nationals on their safari holiday. The town was very calm belying the murderous activities that were taking place in sections of the country.
Our trips to Samburu National Reserve, Hell’s Gate National park and Maasai Mara National Reserve were uninterrupted and had it not been for the distress calls from concerned relatives, perhaps my clients would never have awakened to the possibility of the alleged ‘burning country.’
A month after the group returned to their home country, I received mail from one of them, a French national. Gory images displayed on French media had left her disturbed and doubtful about whether her safari had actually been on the soils of Kenya. The images, she wrote, were a deep contrast to her peaceful experience in the country.
Still smarting from the effects of the post election violence, the industry is yet to regain balance seven months later for various reasons:
Problems Facing Tourism
Travel advisories: Although a few countries have lifted these, those that still hold on continue to perpetuate erroneous statements such as: that despite the formation of the Grand Coalition cabinet, the potential for violence still lingers; that the government continues to provide armed escorts to convoys of public service vehicles and trucks in Western Kenya; that regions on the north of Kitale, Samburu, Garissa and Lamu are no go zones. How ridiculous!
Kenya’s over reliance on Western countries as a source of its tourist market. Unlike their Asian counterparts who have since lifted their travel ban, Western nations have only reviewed them slightly. The result is that tourists from the former continued streaming into the country. Perhaps it is time Kenya cast its nets further into the Asian market in a bid to woo more tourists.
Security lapses: The fact that illegal gangs or militia can take certain parts of the country hostage and cause mayhem with impunity is disheartening. What is annoying is that the police force that is mandated with the task of maintaining law and order in the country, sometimes appear outsmarted. The international media then swiftly picks this and exaggerates the news thereby eroding the confidence of potential tourists.
Key steps in restoring tourism as the top foreign exchange earner include the following:
The Government must lobby with the embassies of various Western countries to lift or downgrade these travel advisories. This will instill a sense of security in the wider market.
Fostering political stability: That the Coalition Government should work together to foster unity and promote peace in the country is not a matter of conjecture.
Active campaigns to market Kenya as a worthwhile destination: Recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Tourism, some government officials and stakeholders in the Tourism Industry were in Berlin, Germany during the World Travel Market to market Kenya as a tourist destination. President Mwai Kibaki has constantly been wooing tourists on his official visits across the border as he did in Japan and in Arusha, Tanzania during the 8th Leon Sullivan Summit. The Prime Minister, Raila Odinga has also been on the forefront in urging tourists to visit Kenya. On his official visit to South Africa where he was leading a Government delegation to the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town, Mr. Odinga took time to tell the World that the country is finally on the recovery path for peace and stability and that both tourists and investors are welcome.
Widen the market beyond Europe and America: Focus should now shift to other continents like Asia. China is also emerging as a major economic force in the world. Japan is equally doing well economically not to mention the oil rich Middle East states.
Alternative tourist destinations: Northern Kenya has some of the most splendid landscapes and wildlife in selected parts. One way to market it as a tourist destination could be through the formation of Conservation Group Ranches, perhaps in conjunction with select non-Governmental organizations. Such Conservancies will help in developing infrastructure and conservation of flora and fauna. Ultimately, once tourists have been pulled into the region then other benefits such as employment for the youth will inevitably follow. Youth could be assimilated as guides, porters and game rangers or work in the eco-lodges.
A prime example of the benefits of such Conservancies is the formation of the Kalama and Namunyak Conservation Areas in Wamba and Archer’s Post respectively in the expansive Samburu district. Initially, one needed police escort to traverse this area from Isiolo to Maralal through Wamba but beefed up security has changed all this. No wonder Namunyak was the choice for this years Rhino Charge rally.
Through the formation of such Conservancies, new and alternative tourist destinations will open up and lessen the strain on traditional tourist hot cakes such as Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Amboseli.