Terror alerts bite as 20 hotels close down at the Coast

MOMBASA, KENYA: Over 20 hotels at the Coast have been shut after recent terrorist attacks and Western travel advisories.

This is according to the latest report by the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) released in Mombasa yesterday.

KAHC says up to 20 hotels may have been closed down in the north coast, while five are now shut in the southern coast, adding that the closures which began in April this year are unprecedented even during the low tourist season. However, not all the hotels affected are members of KAHC, which now says the advisories and insecurity have scared tourists away and led to loss of hundreds of jobs in the sector since last month.

“We have never seen such a big number of hotels closing down, especially on the north coast. We have had hotels closing in the south for repairs but not in the north,” said Mike Macharia, the KAHC CEO.

Yesterday, the association described the situation in the outlook for the hospitality industry as gloomy, warning that the layoffs currently being witnessed will to continue with more international conferences cancelled or postponed.

Unconfirmed figures put the number of employees laid off by the hotels in Coast region at over 7,000, but the tourism experts say the knock-on effects of the sector’s slump may be higher.

KAHC said it could not confirm the number of employees laid off so far until it carries out a research but warned that those affected might stay jobless until October unless the advisories are lifted. Traditionally, the high season starts in June.

The hotel operators now want President Uhuru Kenyatta to give the Tourism ministry a substantive Cabinet Secretary and Permanent Secretary to deal with the problem.

KAHC said security experts they invited from Switzerland to advise operators on security matters during a tourism symposium scheduled for the end of the year have also turned them down citing security fears.

“The situation has escalated from bad to worse. We have never seen such big numbers of hotels close down in the history of this country and the raft of measures announced by the Head of State may not work if the issue of insecurity is not dealt with,” said Macharia.

He said it was surprising that despite the terror attacks witnessed across the globe, the West singled out Kenya for advisories. He warned that the best intervention lies in “making the international community to trust the Kenyan security system.”

The hoteliers said that they will identify a specialist to carry out a research on the impact of the advisories on the sector, but noted that Kenya may not recover in time for the start of the high season in mid-June.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday last week unveiled nine key measures to save tourism, but some will require parliamentary approval.

Yesterday it emerged that the hotel owners plan to hold workshops for MPs to brief them fully on the scale of the problem.

“We have established a fund and we want to raise between Sh14 million to Sh20 million to sensitise the MPs so they can understand why the measures announced by the Head of State, including the issue of VAT, are absolutely necessary,” said Mr Macharia.

KAHC said they plan to meet the parliamentary committee on Trade and Tourism in two weeks’ time before meeting the security committee over the proposed measures announced by President Kenyatta.

Mr Kenyatta ordered the scrapping of VAT on air tickets and park entrance fee, which were introduced under the VAT Act 2013.

Also, employers who pay for a week’s holiday for their staff would get the costs deducted from their taxes.

Yesterday, Kwale and Mombasa counties also announced some measures to ease the pressure on the sector.

Kwale County will waive the bed levy it had included in this year’s fiscal estimates that was expected to bring in revenues of over Sh73 million for the county annually.

reverse trend

According to the County Secretary for Tourism Adam Shee, the county has also banned Boda bodas from  operating at night in Diani to curb insecurity.

“Boda bodas have been used by gunmen to kill people in the area in the past and we have decided to ban them as from 6pm. We have also set aside enough money to light up the 5.5km stretch from Diani,” said Mr Shee.

The county has also set aside a budget for beach management programme and streamlining beach operators. It plans to construct stalls on one of the beach access roads where operators will sell their wares.

Mombasa County, on the other hand, is planning an international culture day in August to showcase the region’s culture.

“Other than holiday tourism we also want to diversify and we have organised an international culture day that we hope will be a spring board for the sector. The function will be held between 21 to 23 August,” said Mombasa County Secretary for Tourism Joab Tumbo.

The sector players also want the Government to have an “open skies” programme for Moi International Airport in Momb asa. This would see the liberalisation of commercial airline regulations to bring in more tourists.