Poll jitters leave tourism sector reeling

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and Principal Secretary Fatuma Hisri present the Eco Warrior Award to Camilla Mc Connell, events consultant at Olpejeta Conservancy

Simmering political tensions are likely to significantly bring down the number of international tourist arrivals in the fourth quarter of the year, a State official has warned.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said the prevailing political climate in the country could reverse the gains made when arrivals registered a 10 per cent growth between January and June.

The CS, who spoke during a tourism gala night in Nairobi on Wednesday, said players in the hospitality industry were already feeling the pinch of the heightened political environment and things could get worse going into next month’s repeat presidential election.

 “Charter planes to the Coast are now running almost empty. Wildlife sanctuaries in Laikipia are recording zero guest arrivals. The situation in the tourism sector is really bad because of the tensions. The impact will definitely be felt as the year comes to a close,” he said.

“The industry will not recover even by early next year.”

He cited Diani in the South Coast, where he said bed occupancy maintained a low of 60 per cent. Mombasa and Malindi, added the CS, are also ‘quiet’.

Terror attacks

Ol Pajeta Ranch in Laikipia, which is arguably the biggest animal sanctuary in East Africa, with endangered rhinos and chimpanzees under its care, is also said to be quiet in terms of arrivals.

The CS said the prevailing situation was unfortunate because the sector had shown signs of recovery in the run-up to the disputed August 8 General Election. Between April and August 8 this year, tourism numbers had soared to 300,000 arrivals, up from 245,000 last year due to the early wildebeest migration, but the number has since dropped as international tourists keep off.

Private sector players, under the aegis of the Kenya Tourism Federation, also recently expressed their concerns about the negative publicity generated by the rising political tensions, saying it would further hurt the industry.

Mr Balala said domestic tourism, which had helped to prop the sector in the past two years when international arrivals plummeted in the wake of increased terrorist attacks, has also gone down, with most Kenyans putting travel on the back burner until after the repeat election. “If you ask me, I would suggest that we hold elections after 10 years. At least then we wouldn’t see the problems we are witnessing currently in the tourism industry,” said the CS.

The Tourism Finance Corporation chief executive, Jonah Orumoi, said the industry was limping and that its fortunes were unlikely to improve any time soon if the current political standoff between the ruling Jubilee Party and the opposition NASA coalition was not resolved soon.