Kenya expects 1.5m tourists by end of year, says Najib Balala

Outgoing Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Kenya projects to receive 1.46 million tourists by the end of the year as the country fights off the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking on Wednesday during the opening of the 12th edition of Magical Kenya Tourism Expo (MKTE) at the Bomas of Kenya, outgoing Tourism CS Najib Balala said that the country was on its way to full recovery attributed to resilience, growth of the domestic market and value addition to tourism experience.

He said the estimated arrivals were valued at Sh265 billion.

“Last year, we recorded 870,000 visitors into the country with revenue receipt of Sh146 billion, and by close of this year, we have better prospects since things have begun looking up," said Balala.

The expo, which is the largest East and Central African Travel Trade Show, brings together over 200 exhibitors and 160 buyers among other industry partners and media from some of Kenya’s key source markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The three-day event which ends on Friday marks a significant development in the recovery of the sector from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic slump.

Balala noted that the presence of exhibitors and hosted buyers representing about 30 countries affirms that Kenya is a country that continues to attract global attention and investment in tourism development.

"This is a great platform to sell Kenya to the global tourism market and we are confident that within these three days, we shall see some interesting developments as we look forward to building on the already existing partnerships between our tourism industry and global players,” said Balala.

He said that the ministry has built on efforts to ensure that tourism experiences are not only safe and enjoyable for visitors, but also sustainable and profitable for stakeholders in the industry.

Kenya Tourism Board chief executive officer Betty Radier said that the expo is part of the board's efforts to revitalise tourism in Kenya as it focuses on Africa and other emerging markets.

“We are delighted to have the event return to in-person after two years, last year we held the event virtually to ensure that the sector did not lose out on any opportunities. As we continue to work towards our vision of thriving tourism industry, we are determined to support this vital sector by providing an environment that will attract visitors and enable them to connect with the best in local hospitality, culture and heritage,” she said.

Still, industry players especially from Kenya's coast have decried the lack of an open air policy and high taxation on certain goods as key challenges affecting the tourism business in Kenya.

They argue the protectionist policy from the government has made Kenya lose business to other regional markets such as Zanzibar. 

"Kenya is slowly losing its competitive edge if some parts of the destination are not easily accessible from other parts of the world," says Andre Thomas, senior product manager for Africa at Switzerland-based FTI Touristik.

Thomas says his company was forced to pay off 70,000 euros or more than Sh7 million in compensation when Turkish Airlines pulled out of the coastal city of Mombasa.

"That means I made no money and had to use the extra cash to pay off the disappointed clients. They may be hesitant to come to the destination if they are going to spend two days accessing Kenya's coast," said Thomas.

According to Balala, the country will have to decide on opening up airspace and increasing traffic to Africa. 

"The Open Sky Policy has been postponed but not anymore. Fear of the unknown is what is eating us. South Africa and Morocco have tried it with success. Low-cost airlines make people travel in an affordable manner," he said. 

A player from a local airline says Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA)needs to review some of its taxation policies including scrapping the three per cent Railway Development Levy of plane spare parts.

"Imagine bringing in a plane engine that costs Sh4 million and then has to pay the RDL? Imagine too that you have to pay the 16 per cent VAT on repairs done to the engine outside the country, yet this was an engine for which you paid all duties when new. This brings the cost of transporting tourists to local destinations an expensive affair," said the manager at Wilson Airport who declined to be named for fear of reprisal.

According to him, such high levies have made some local operators 'cook' their books and avoid such levies hence some low-cost tickets for some operators.  

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