Sunshine statement prompts instant dissent from leading Kenya tourism stakeholders

Figures floated by Kenyan government sources yesterday of a downturn in tourism fortunes by a mere 4 percent prompted swift and unusually harsh and candid responses from leading stakeholders.

Sunshine statement prompts instant dissent from leading Kenya tourism stakeholders

Figures floated by Kenyan government sources yesterday of a downturn in tourism fortunes by a mere 4 percent prompted swift and unusually harsh and candid responses from leading stakeholders. Serena Hotels’ Director of Sales and Marketing Ms. Rosemary Mugambi arguably found the most appropriate words to show the industry’s growing dissent from the official government line. The figures she quoted in her statement, which was widely read on social media and rebroadcast and shared across Kenya, the region and key source markets, showed a significantly higher downturn than the figures government yesterday admitted to, one reason for the broad condemnation subsequently received here from sources in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Start quote:

Statement from Serena Management on the supposed 4% drop in tourism as stated by Kenya Tourism Board:

4% DROP IN TOURISM! WE MUST BE JOKING!

When we come across such statements which are not in touch with reality on the ground, we wonder if KTB and the Kenya tourism industry “live in the same Kenya.” Tourism was 30% down on year 2012 in year 2013, which was not a buoyant year due to elections, Westgate ordeal and introduction of VAT.

Year 2014 depending on which regions you look at – Kenyan Coast for example is down 30% to 50% on year 2013; The safari market reliant on the coast (Tsavo; Amboseli) is similarly down; Mara, Mt. Kenya, Nakuru has experienced a 20% down turn.

The tragedy of any crisis is “WHEN ONE DOES NOT ACCEPT THERE IS A PROBLEM – ONE NEVER SEEKS SOLUTIONS.” In the meantime businesses are suffering, our Kenyan brothers and sisters are losing jobs, the manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, curio suppliers and boat operators are all being negatively impacted. KRA revenues from tourism must be way down too.

It is just not business as usual – Let’s not kid ourselves.

Rosemary Mugambi,
Sales and Marketing Director
Tourism Promotion Services – Serena Hotels

End quote

“It is a wee bit unusual that the top dogs in our industry come out with such determination but then we have told government time and again that there is no longer room for sunshine speeches. We need to face up to the facts on the ground and those facts and figures are self-explanatory. We do not imagine the job losses, we do not imagine that hotels and resorts are closed and those still open face a very bleak future. Our government and its various bodies has no patent on the truth and if their truth and our truth widely differ, they can now expect to be challenged in open forum. We must now face up to the situation as hard as it may be and I can only quote Chris Modigell, a veteran who has seen it all and gone through the paces and phases for nearly 40 years in Kenya. When he says recovery, if properly rolled out, may take as long as 3 years I take him more seriously than when our CS trumpets that the Chinese will make up for the loss of the European markets. Does she know that last year our arrivals from China actually dropped. Is she aware that the tit for tat Visa measures will probably cost Kenya thousands of South African tourists who will now go to Zanzibar? This government has promised and promised and we see peanuts. VAT on aircraft and aircraft spares is still there making our airfares expensive, VAT on tourism services is still there making our safaris and tours expensive, there are not enough direct scheduled flights to Mombasa by international airlines and not even by our own national airline. Tourism to Lamu is now all but dead and the latest shooting yesterday of a tourist in the old town of Mombasa dealt the coast a lethal blow. We are exposed to be talkers and not doers and overseas tour operators probably no longer pay attention to the statements sent out after such a tragic incident by KTB or the ministry. Did we not hear assurances two weeks ago that the tourism police would be increased and that there will be more regular police and security on the ground. This is the reality we face here in Mombasa and no amount of statements and words can repair the damage this latest incident has done. We just need to sit it out now and hope that resources can be found to survive the tourism drought until arrivals rise again,” said a regular coast-based source letting off steam when asked to comment.

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A number of other regular sources, preferring anonymity, more or less concurred with the figures quoted by Serena’s Director of Sales and Marketing and in varying degrees expressed their own dissatisfaction with government’s efforts to restore security and provide the tourism sector with much needed relief especially on VAT.

Germany’s foreign office has also overnight published a new travel advisory which now “urgently recommends to refrain from visits to the city of Mombasa” as a result of the two shootings. Some also pointed to a latest safety advice Germany’s leading travel group TUI has now put up on all notice boards at hotels and resorts they use in Kenya which now “urgently advises against travel to Lamu,” their way of telling guests the place should not be visited and added “advises against travel into Mombasa,” which while not a prohibition order nevertheless will very likely result in visitors from beach resorts opting not to come into the city where, apart from Fort Jesus the main market always was a key attraction where tourists bought spices and curio items. One regular reader, apparently close to the British High Commission, also responded to the ongoing developments with a simple “we told you so and remember the fuss you made at the time making us look like the villains,” which was of course not helpful in any way.

Said another regular contributor: “Balala at one time talked that KTB should get 2 billion shillings. He understood tourism better than any other minister I have seen in office. The 200 million are not yet with KTB and this financial year they were graciously given 500 million, on paper that is. We all know that paper and reality are two different things. It is true that a recovery strategy first needs to be formulated and then broadly discussed among stakeholders but then the money should be there to hit the markets. But also let me be frank, if such things like Lamu county and Mombasa county insecurity are not halted, no matter how much money we throw at the market, tourists will simply stay away and look for what they think are safer holiday destinations.”

Kenya’s ongoing campaign #WhyILoveKenya continues to be a success but has not translated into a reversal of fortunes as yet, though it helps to showcase Kenya’s beautiful parks, conservancies and game reserves, safari lodges and camps and beach side locations visitors can expect to find when traveling to the country.

The full opening of the new Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is now just weeks away and will very much improve the passenger experience when flying in and out of Kenya’s largest airport. Much positive to tell, that much is true, but the bad news are clearly overwhelming the effects of the up talk and not just cancel out the positive effects but worse, leave more of the negative impressions lingering than of the pretty pictures and narratives, no matter how ably told and how well illustrated those are.

Still, Kenya deserves support and when all is said and done, all those who say and do or said and did, will remain Kenyans, working in an industry they have made their lives’ careers and professions and not telling the truth, no matter how hard it is to tell, will only undermine Kenya’s credibility abroad, as well as within.

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