Letters

Political utterances threaten tourism recovery

mithika

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Richard

Summary

  • Heightened political temperatures may truncate the recent gains made in the sector following the reduction of Covid-19 control restrictions.
  • If allowed to continue unabated, this year’s election campaigns may be adverse given the hangover of Covid-19 effects on hotels.

Shouting and shoving have replaced mature, thoughtful debate in Kenyan Parliament and the ground is taking note. It is clear that if not nipped in the bud, a sad outcome is daily being pronounced on our tourism sector’s growth projection.

Heightened political temperatures may truncate the recent gains made in the sector following the reduction of Covid-19 control restrictions.

Past elections have proven the disruptive effect they can mete on Kenya’s tourism sector. If allowed to continue unabated, this year’s election campaigns may be adverse given the hangover of Covid-19 effects on hotels.

The period between now and 2024 when pundits see Kenya’s tourism returning to its peak is riddled with political challenges.

Tourism is Kenya’s third foreign exchange earner after tea and coffee. While in 2019 tourism raked in Sh164 billion, it realised a mere Sh37 billion in 2020 according to Statistica 2022 reports. Last year’s report is not yet out.

Kenya depends mainly on international tourism arrivals for the industry to remain sustainable and vibrant. According to UNWTO latest data “Global Tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020 with international arrivals dropping by 74%.

Kenya tourism statistics indicate that international visitor arrivals declined to 567,800 in 2020 while in the year 2019 alone 2 million visited the country.”

But it is political stability that is likely to be the rhizome from which stable tourism sprouts in 2022.

Since the reopening of Kenya’s economy in October 2021, tourism has been the biggest winner as masses across the world sped off to holidays that they had longed for but could not take earlier.

But that applies to the economically well-off economies. Domestic tourism has been slow to return at the till, but active. Travellers are spending less or finding that alternatives to stretch the coin.

The UK, Kenya’s top tourism source market with almost 120,000 guests per month on average in 2019, slowed down in 2020 to a paltry 40,000.

The market is still apprehensive but collective efforts by player sectors in collaboration with a robust vaccine regime means things are picking up.

Mombasa’s tourism department camped in Europe, notably Ukraine to woo tourists. The Kenya Coast Tourists Association also threw in its weight urging prioritisation of the sector’s growth.

Niche group tours, couple retreats, mountaineering groups, bird-watcher tours, historical site tours, western belt tours and even amateur photography tours are some the ways to reshape the sector.

Selling beach and sun tours or Big Five safaris is evidently inadequate. Tourists are craving eco-sensitive cultural experiences like tours to local villages, slums, farms or to fishing islands in Lake Victoria.

This is the time to repair, restore and rejuvenate our hotels, sites and attitudes in readiness for the big harvest in 2024. Regional tourists are increasingly visiting Kenya’s cities of Nakuru, Nairobi and Mombasa from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

But three major global events of 2022 to watch out for are: United Nations Environment Assembly from February 28 to March 2 in Nairobi; 50th-anniversary commemoration of the creation of Unep (March 3–4) in Nairobi; and, the ninth Edition of AfriCities Summit from May 17–21 in Kisumu.

The WRC Safari Rally will make a comeback in June 23-26.

Support for universal healthcare protocols around Covid-19 is pivotal in unlocking the sector's growth. The domestic market may hold a more everlasting promise in delivering success in tourism, so it must be secured and locked in.

With an election this year and with Covid still here, it will be an interesting period for marketers, digital campaigners, peace-and-health ambassadors to navigate. All indicators show resurgence, but heavy-duty threats abound propped up by political challenges.

Overall, hotels demand a return-to-normalcy and good cheer. This will call for all hands on deck, supportive policies, new circuits, reduced regional travel barriers. It will do well to create attractions targeting a hybrid of both local and international guests, using a wide spectrum of attractions, events and activities.

If nothing is done about the increased political temperatures then the first casualty will be tourism.

Smith Muteti, hospitality manager with 22 years in the industry. Richard Kitheka, communications specialist, founder of GoldfishPR