Only vehicles specially modified to navigate the rough terrains to game parks and national reserves will be allowed to carry tourists as Kenya moves to boost its safari offerings.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said mini buses that currently dominate the business will soon have to look for other alternatives.
He asked tour firms to use specialised vehicles such as Land Cruisers for transporting tourists to ensure comfort.
Mr Balala said it is product development in the safari segment that would attract more holidaymakers.
The Cabinet secretary didn’t indicate when mini-buses would be withdrawn. The switch from mini-buses to Land Cruiser is part of the government’s effort to improve transport services for both local and international visitors.
In 2010, the authorities reached an agreement with tour companies that they would forego mini-buses for Land Cruisers.
However, the deal didn’t take effect after tour operators demanded more time to buy the other vehicles.
The other challenge was that some unscrupulous operators were using matatus for carrying visitors to the parks.
Use of matatus for that purpose was inconveniencing tourists since the vehicles were not made for tour operating on rough terrains.
Mr Balala said most safari destinations in Africa authorise the use of Land Cruiser for safaris.
“No more use of mini-buses for safaris. We shall authorise only specialised safari vehicles,” he said.
Tourism director Said Athman, said the ministry will soon stop issuing licenses for mini-buses operators.
He said tour firms were given ample time to buy specialised vehicles and hence have no excuse.
“Initially, the tour operators entered into an agreement with the government in 2010 that they would stop using mini-buses for tours,” he said.
“But after the agreement, they requested that they be given time to purchase the required vehicles for safaris,” he said.
Mr Athman urged tour operators to adhere to the use of specialised safari vehicles to give their clients better service.
The official said Land Cruisers were suitable for game drives, adding that tourists enjoy better game viewing than when driven in mini-buses.
“The use of Land Cruisers is more convenient as the cars can easily move through muddy roads compared to mini-buses,” he said.
Mr Athman noted that safari destinations such as South Africa use specialised vehicles for safari and game drives in its parks.
Soon after the Tourism Cabinet secretary said the government would no longer allow mini-buses to enter parks, small tour firms expressed disgust over his directive.
A tour firm operator who wished not to be named, said the move would drive out small players out of business.
He said: “This is a government ploy to kill small businesses so that the major tour firms can reap from game drives.”