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How we plan to hit three million tourists mark for Kenya

By Mwaniki Munuhe | December 18th 2016
By Mwaniki Munuhe | December 18th 2016

Tourism is accepted as an economic boon and a valuable asset to the economy. Due to its high multiplier effects, the tourism sector plays a significant role in the country’s economic development in terms of foreign exchange earnings, job creation and poverty alleviation. Weekend Business talks to Principal Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Fatuma Hirsi on the sector’s highs and lows.

As the accounting officer in charge of one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for the country, what’s your biggest headache?

My biggest headache is low tourist arrivals and receipts due to several travel advisories issued against Kenya by our key source tourist markets and dwindling product offerings. This is because a lot needs to be done mostly in regard to infrastructure development and diversification of tourist attractions. To grow tourism, there is need to focus on improving security and safety by strengthening national security across our borders and boosting surveillance.

You’ve been at the ministry for a year plus now, what were your goals getting in, and what have you achieved?

Our goal as a ministry was to return the tourism sector onto a growth path that will enable Kenya attain the targeted tourist numbers and revenues. And indeed today the tourism sector has registered impressive results with recovery standing at 18 per cent by September, 2016 and it is expected to improve even more by 2018. In the year 2015 – 2016, the tourism industry’s performance has improved in both revenue and number of inbound tourists. This comes as a result of the various initiatives and the revamped product packaging put in place in promoting Kenya as a tourism destination supported by President Uhuru Kenyatta who agreed to several waivers and tax incentives. The Charter Incentive Programme is one such initiative which continues to attract new charters to the coastal region. The government also scrapped visa fees for children under 16 years and introduced a borderless East African tourism where citizens of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda can travel using their national IDs and the Uni Visa to allow our countries to be accessible to international visitors.

The turnaround of Kenya Airways, expansion of airports, in real terms, what does that translate to in terms of numbers of visitors coming into the country?

The tourism sector is on recovery trend and is expected to bring in Sh95 billion and attract 1.4 international tourists this financial year and fully recover by 2018. The construction of tourism roads and infrastructure such as the road from Mombasa International Airport to Mombasa, Maasai Mara road, Meru Road and the cruise ship terminal in addition to many others have improved visitor experience.

We in Kenya have been talking about diversifying the tourism products, where are we with that?

Kenya is a top long-haul tourism destination in the world and boasts world class products and offerings like beach and wildlife tourism (safari). But Kenya is more than a safari destination. This country has proven her ability to offer unique experiences in sports tourism and other exciting options in the realms of rugby, golf and water sports for discerning visitors. The annual derbies, marathons and rallies present new opportunities for domestic and local tourism, and hold the potential of opening up new revenue streams for the industry.

There’s Seychelles, Mauritius, and Zanzibar rivaling Kenya’s beaches; then, there’s Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia in wildlife and views. What’s Kenya’s biggest selling point?

Kenya is strategically located thus easily accessible by the rest of the world through air, water, land hence a regional hub for most multinationals like UNEP, UN, World Bank, CCTV, BBC, and Aljazeera. This has been carefully packaged to sell Kenya as a leading business tourism destination. Kenya has a well developed and modern infrastructure in Sub-Sahara Africa. The country is packaged and sold as a regional hub for tourism and commerce hence placing Kenya ahead of its competitors.

What keeps you awake? And what do you think about every day just before you sleep?

I would love to see the tourism sector rebound to the good old glory days like it was in 2007. Kenya is a wonderful nation and I’m always thinking about how the ministry can increase capacity building and marketing to reach our three million tourists mark as spelt in Vision 2030. I want to see Kenya reclaim its rightful place on the global scene the way it was. I dream of a day Kenya’s tourism sector will overtake South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Egypt, Morocco and become the leading tourism destination in Africa.

When you look ahead to 2017, an election year, what excites you? And what worries you?

What excites me is how we are changing the perception of Kenya to the international markets due to the revamped products, incentives and increased security infrastructure. I am positive that the elections will not interfere with next year’s tourism inbound numbers. I believe Kenyans are mature voters and hopefully the election of 2017 will have a lot of measures put in place to guard against the post election violence we experienced during the 2007 election. This excites me and keeps me motivated to drive the needed change in the sector without fear of disruption.

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