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Let's restructure tourism industry to benefit all players

By Mbatau wa Ngai | Jan 23rd 2016 | 3 min read
By Mbatau wa Ngai | January 23rd 2016
Diani Reef Beach Resort and SPA CEO Titus Kangangi chats with a family from Britain that was on holiday at the hotel, last year. Players say the tourism industry is picking up. [PHOTO: GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD]

The Tourism Recovery Taskforce formed in 2014 deserves commendation for the excellent job authoring a report that identified areas that require improvement to bring the industry that was on its knees back to its feet.

In the words of Susan Ongaro, acting CEO of Kenya Tourism Federation, several things have been happening behind the scenes and the team has been working on recommendations of the report. The industry stakeholders are now expecting a full recovery over the next two years.

Hopes are high, therefore, that the government will continue to provide financial and other support required to not only return the industry to where it was in 2010 when coast tourism recorded 3.2 million visitors but accelerate the growth to 5 million.

Even as they step on the accelerator, analysts opine that the industry, and the entire economy, would be best served if the stakeholders do not lose sight of the fact that tourism is a volatile sector and adopt some mitigating strategies.

First, the industry should go back to the drawing board and dust up plans to increase the number of local and regional tourists. This should not be particularly difficult considering that many young people earning reasonable income no longer have parents living in rural areas who visit as a form of relaxation.

These parents most of whom are now in their late 50’s and early 60’s have turned their homes in urban areas their place of retirement due to the high levels of insecurity in their rural areas. Indeed, there are many who had built beautiful retirement homes in the areas they had migrated from only to be chased away by armed robbers and thieves who targeted them and their businesses.

Some of these senior citizens have surplus incomes which they would happily spend in high-end tourist facilities provided they are offered services and prices similar to those on offer to tourists from Europe and America.

Second, the investors would be best advised not to put all their eggs in one basket. This suggests that they invest their profits in the good years in other equally high-yielding sectors such as real estate, education and health. This would increase their ability to ride out the industry’s roller-coaster on an even keel.

Forensic audit

Third, employees in the industry need to use the money they earn in the good times to launch income generating enterprises that do not require their immediate supervision except for those with spouses who can take care of business in their absence.

This would reduce the heart-breaking stories of families rendered destitute every time the bread-winner is laid-off. Farming as a business would be particularly appropriate for many employees of coast hotels drawn from the region.

Surely, this is an area the local county governments could lend a hand by employing the needed agricultural staff who would offer guidance to these would-be farmers. But, finally, the buck still stops at the national government, because it is the major provider of most of the marketing and other funds. The onus is on it to persuade other stakeholders to agree to the carrying out of a forensic audit to determine whether the economy is getting value for money.

This audit would, for example, show the cost of bringing a single tourist into the country. Few analysts would be surprised if the audit would show that it costs the country more to get the tourists because the private stakeholders act in concert to keep the bulk of the payments in their countries of origin.

This means that the only money the country gets to see is what is used locally to pay for the few items of food bought locally as most of the tourist hotels import their food, the taxes levied for various services and the meager amounts spent on buying trinkets like handcrafts.

This might explain why there is such a huge outcry whenever the industry goes through a bump unlike other sectors that have built-in resilience. The audit might also persuade the government to kick-start the stalled efforts to assist local entrepreneurs get into the industry.

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