Kenya: There’s need to overhaul tourism sector to boost

This is what we must do to rev up tourism. 

The Economic Survey of 2019 shows tourism and transport sectors grew at a faster pace and have had a tremendous contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP), with accommodation and food services accounting for (16.6 per cent), telecommunications (13.5 per cent) and transportation and storage (8.8 per cent).

According to UNDP, it is estimated that 3,000 Kenyans are born every day, which translates to a million children every year. With a median age of 18 years, Kenya is witnessing a massive youth bulge, which could present a demographic dividend or a potential disaster in case we don’t tap into the potential that they present.

One area where more jobs for the youth can be created is in the tourism industry.

There’s need to improve and reform the tourism sector to meet international standards, client expectations, economic viability and, most importantly, create jobs.

These reforms should be legislative and institutional. Improvements should be made in the preservation of natural assets and development of human resources capacity.

Improvement of infrastructure for product diversification is also crucial so is quality branding for worldwide appeal. Others are strengthening public-private partnerships, improving citizens’ engagement, increasing people’s awareness and appreciation of the tourism sector, pouring more investments in the sector and political will.

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The ongoing merger between Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation, IDB Capital and the Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC) will have a negative impact on the tourism sector. In my view, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government should instead make the tourism sector a fifth pillar in his agenda. We are all aware that if nothing is done urgently to preserve our environment, Masai Mara, our greatest natural national park and tourist attraction will die a natural death before 2030. Masai Mara River is already drying up.

Wildlife, as a component of nature-based tourism, needs a healthy environment to thrive and be sustainable. Small losses in carrying capacity of the ecosystem will cause a large loss to the economy as a whole.

It’s evident that Kenya is facing significant desertification because of widespread deforestation of our water towers and the setting up of more hotels and lodges inside our national parks, land grabbing and privatisation of wildlife sanctuaries.

Tourism has undergone significant changes domestically and internationally and as such, adoption of new policies is important to accommodate the new trends. Tourism laws and regulations should also be reviewed and reinforced to make them more effective and facilitative.

The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and State corporation laws and regulations should be aligned after review. The Kenyan government should review the tourism policy to articulate the new vision to promote product innovation, diversification, new destinations and inclusive participation.

Other sectors such as agriculture and livestock should be accommodated in tourism and regulatory bodies should be brought under one roof to avoid unnecessary and persistent human wildlife conflicts.

TFC programmes should be fast-tracked to attract more investments, credits and to reflect its mandate. TFC will also need to undergo a radical overhaul or rebranding to regain its lost glory to best support the Big Four agenda and Vision 2030.

TFC subsidiaries present an increasingly complex landscape for corporate management particularly in regard to governance and compliance. Subsidiaries operate in the shadow of their parent company and so corporate management must try to satisfy both the demands of the parent organisation’s primary mission and the goals of the individual subsidiary.

Acquiring this balance is often more difficult than it sounds. To this end, TFC should establish governance principles that reflect on her business ethos while respecting the individual intricacies of each subsidiary, including the regulatory requirements of its particular jurisdiction and the cultural factors that may affect its operation.

The corporation must look for strategic partners for efficient and effective management of subsidiaries and also connect with the right corporate partners.

Improving tourism infrastructure in the counties will open up incentive trips, conferences, and offsite retreats. There has been minimal returns from tourism at the county level because infrastructure is still under-developed. These include airports, airstrips and land for tourism investment including hotels, beach resorts, campsites, airport hotels and roads.

Some taxes and levies should either be scrapped or reduced to attract more players into the sector. Also, citizen participation should be stressed to boost domestic and international tourism. People should be educated from at a tender age on the importance of tourism and conservation.

We also need to improve the quality of education provided by Utalii and other tourism and hospitality colleges because services provided by hotels in the country discourage tourists.

Investment should be increased in the tourism sector, with aggressive marketing and communication undertaken to attract more tourists.

Stakeholders should be involved in decision-making because they are the ones directly dealing with tourists. The sector is greatly damaged when tourists leave with a negative impression on the industry.

Policies, laws and regulations pertaining to tourism should be fast-tracked to enable the country speed up its development.

Mr Kinuthia is a director, Tourism Finance Corporation

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2019 Economic Surveytourism sector