Kenya’s profile as a tourist destination in the region is on the wane. While external factors like the Euro zone crisis are to blame, much of it actually has to do with the Government’s own scant treatment of the sector.
Security concerns – largely as a result of terrorist attacks – poor infrastructure and, more recently, the imposition of value added tax on tourism and hotel services have been cited as critical to the sector’s unmitigated decline over the years. Add poaching to this mix and the country is staring at a future without as much as a cent from tourism.
Earnings from the once cash-rich sector have dropped over two consecutive years. Last year, the country’s earnings from tourism fell by 7.4 per cent to Sh96 billion from Sh103.9 billion in previous years due to uncertainties caused by the high-octane March 4 General Election.
The decline robbed tourism of its crown as the country’s top foreign exchange earner, with horticulture taking over. The situation is, however, bound to get worse as international charter flights give Kenya a wide berth for what they term “State failure to address key issues in the aviation industry”.
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Several charter flights from Switzerland that served both Mombasa and Nairobi have since cancelled the Mombasa route. The idyllic Indian Ocean islands of Seychelles, Zanzibar and Mauritius are waiting in the wings to benefit from Kenya’s woes.
But what is more worrying is a new report ranking countries according to the number of jobs the new investment in the hotel sector will create this year. The report puts Uganda and Ethiopia ahead of Kenya, and shows that Nigeria is the hottest spot for investors in the tourism sector.
Even as the Government primes itself to cash in on to single tourist visa for the East African Community, more will depend on Kenya’s own tourist products, improved roads and provision of sufficient security for tourists to counter international travel advisories.
Investors in the tourism sector need more than the promise of single regional market. They want sufficient incentives and a watertight promise that they can recoup their investments.