The hospitality industry met President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi for crisis talks. Kenyatta announced what amounts to a paradigm shift that would see Kenya finally embracing domestic tourism and refocusing its marketing to the Far East and the regional markets.
After the meeting, Kenyatta issued a raft of measures including tax breaks and incentives directing corporate and business entities to pay vacation trip expenses to their staff on annual leave and deduct the expenditures from their taxes. Government ministries and state agencies were also cleared to hold their meetings and conferences in hotels to shore up the fortunes of the battered industry.
According to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), local tourism currently accounts for 35% overall bed nights. KTB aims to increase this number to 60% by 2018. A Tourism Recovery Committee has been established with a $2.4m marketing budget targeting traditional markets, emerging economies, domestic and regional markets.
A Tourism Recovery Committee has been established with a $2.4m marketing budget targeting traditional markets, emerging economies, domestic and regional markets
The Kenyan strategy also identifies regional tourism as a complement to domestic travel. Since 2006, the East African Tourism and Wildlife Coordination Agency, which is an EAC agency, has coordinated joint trade fairs for the region in international exhibitions but has done little in terms of marketing the region to itself.
In February, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenyan leaders launched a single tourist visa, which was later unveiled in the US and Berlin by the respective envoys. This visa is aimed at boosting integration and at the same increasing tourism earnings in these three countries. Tanzania and Burundi are yet to join the single tourism visa.
The industry has also been criticised for being ‘product driven’ rather than being ‘consumer driven’ and for its fixation with Europe. Stacy Wakesho, chairperson of the Domestic Tourism Association (DTA), has challenged the regional governments to look inward and emulate Malaysia, which has more domestic tourists than international arrivals.
“It is the way to go so that the industry does not crumble each time we experience low numbers of foreign tourists. Countries such as Malaysia, which have taken deliberate efforts to promote domestic tourism, have yielded positive results.”
The 2011 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) regional tourism integration study noted that in 2009, Malaysia recorded 90m domestic tourists, topping the 23m international arrivals. Of the 23m international arrivals, 13m came from Malaysia’s regional neighbour Singapore.
It remains to be seen if East Africa will decisively tackle terrorism threats and its newly minted “look-inward” tourism policy will alter the dwindling fortunes of a troubled sector.