Economy

Tourism recovery headache

Tourists

Tourists enjoying themselves at Bamburi Beach Hotel, Mombasa in this photo taken on November 20, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The tourism industry is stuck between protective policies and a liberation push being implemented by immigration and transport ministries that the sector says may impede its efforts to pull international visitors to the country and recover to 2019-levels.

Outgoing Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala says the sector is facing challenges with limited flights, e-visa issues and budget cuts affecting promotion initiatives.

This comes as the sector recorded 924,812 international tourists in the eight months to August, 91.4 percent up compared to 483,246 in a similar period last year.

The sector is projecting 1.46 million people visitors by December, which will still be lower than the more than 2.04 million in 2019.

Mr Balala has said restrictions on chartered flights, including KLM, Qatar, Turkish Airlines and Emirates to the Coast has suppressed the number of tourists into the country.

“Airlines such as KLM, Qatar, Turkish Airlines and Emirates want to come and bring visitors to the Coast but were denied that permission by the Ministry of Transport. There is a demand from Europe particularly for direct flights to come to Mombasa airports. This has affected main tourism markets such as Italy that are dependent on charter flights,” Mr Balala said.

Players have been asking the government to implement the open skies policy to ensure the hubs attract more international airlines.

“That is an ongoing discussion… There is an element of saving our Kenya Airways but I don't believe by stopping other airlines we increase our numbers. These are the issues that need to be discussed and addressed seriously, otherwise, we will not be able to grow the number of tourists to what we had in 2019.”

Mr Balala has raised concerns that travellers are complaining about visiting Kenya over e-visa authorisation that takes a month.

He said the visa delays and inefficiencies at the airport are discouraging visitors from visiting the country.

“The other challenge is e-visa. The visa is working and sometimes doesn't work. And there are so many fake websites on people applying for Kenyan visas. The Minister of Immigration needs to clean up that website, and be more seamless and efficient in visa processing because that can be a frustration for any country.”

The sector’s earnings were recorded at Sh167.10 billion in the eight-months period compared to Sh83.16 billion in the 2021 similar period, with a projection of Sh265.39 billion in the full year from Sh146.51 billion for 2021.

Mr Balala is backing a move set to see the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) collect a two percent tourism levy from hotels and restaurants, currently the mandate of the Tourism Fund, a move that has been opposed by some stakeholders.

The move to hand over the collection to the KRA comes on the back of several State agencies outsourcing the services to the taxman, which is seen as more efficient in the task.

Once approved, the taxman will collect the charge on the gross sales derived from accommodation, food, drinks, and all other services offered in scheduled establishments.

The Tourism Fund collected an average of Sh2.5 billion, according to the Auditor-General's report for the fiscal year ended June 2020 before the fund slumped to Sh1.1 billion in the subsequent year as Covid-19 hit the sector.

“The cost of collection of tourism fund currently is 48 percent against four percent cost by KRA. It is not feasible. We need that money to support tourism not to be cost of administration and that is why we need KRA,” he added.

He said the industry will require Sh20 billion annually to invest in the sector and promote destinations in global source markets, a move hurt by lower budgetary allocation.

It is expected that Kenya Tourism Board, Kenya National Convention Bureau, Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency, and Tourism Research Institute will be merged to form Promotion Kenya.

The new entity will be under the Ministry of Trade, Industrialisation, and Enterprise Development away from the traditional tourism docket, which has also been opposed.

“We need to merge these institutions, cut down the cost of running and refurbish tourism infrastructure because there is not enough money to market Kenya."

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