Predictably has anger arisen amongst Kenya’s tourism players when the full impact of the ministerial announcement of the previous week started to sink in. As this column had reported, budget cuts for marketing of nearly 70 percent were proposed by ill advised and probably ill meaning finance ministry officials, which would have disastrous consequences for marketing the country in existing, emerging and new markets. One safari operator well know to this correspondent for decades has called those responsible ‘saboteurs’ while others too made comments not fit for printing. One very senior tourism stakeholder, reacting to the column item of the previous week, stated in apparent frustration: ‘these finance people think they can milk the cow and yet not feed it. If funding for marketing is cut by that much, the board will hardly have funds to pay for recurrent expenditure. This will leave Kenya exposed in the global market place against such countries in Africa like South Africa or Egypt, where budgets were in fact raised to be prominent in the main consumer markets. If we cannot invest at this crucial stage in marketing, we are bound to lose market share, not just against African competitors but even against such countries like Thailand, the Caribbean, Malaysia and other places in demand and very visible.’ Other comments sent by email speak of the big contradiction from government, which has given tourism a key sector rating and yet seems unable or unwilling to spend on promotion. Calls were renewed to allocate a fixed percentage of tourism’s annual earnings to promoting the country, but the finance ministry bureaucrats clearly have other plans on how to spend the funds.
Kenya Airways only recently underwrote a joint private sector initiative worth some 50 million Kenya Shillings to support the marketing efforts of KTB, but will likely see this investment not live up to its full potential, unless matching funds are provided by government. It is understood that senior and key stakeholders are now demanding an audience with not just the finance minister but probably the president himself to make government aware of the urgent need to avail financial resources but also the growing unrest amongst tourism stakeholders. This is like in Uganda where the sector often feels unappreciated by their government and are looked upon as if tourism does ‘just happen’, while the truth is far from it of course. Watch this space.