Political uncertainty and poor policies have conspired to ensure an almost flat performance of the tourism industry.
Although the sector broke even in 2010, recording the highest numbers since independence at 1.095 million visitors, the government has since failed to stabilise both the earnings and the numbers.
While Kenya’s major foreign earner alongside tea and horticulture posted Sh74 billion in 2010, it improved revenue to Sh109 billion in 2011 before falling to Sh96 billion despite aggressive marketing.
Insecurity at the coast early in 2012 was partly blamed for the poor show last year.
While releasing the sector’s last year performance, East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie last week also admitted that the industry was losing out big time to more exclusive markets.
She said the coast region has in recent months experienced a decline in chartered flights, losing tourists to Zanzibar, Mauritius, and Seychelles due to the perception that it is a mass market and lacks exclusivity.
“Zanzibar continues to be a threat to the coast as tourists prefer exclusive destinations,” said Mrs Kandie.
While Kenya posted Sh96 billion in earnings, the island of Zanzibar fell short of this by only Sh40 billion.
In 2011, a market research by the Ministry of Tourism revealed that holidaymakers were uncomfortable with the presence of traders along the beaches of Mombasa.
Then Tourism minister Najib Balala said the government had identified areas in North Coast to build curio markets where all beach operators would be moved.
FREE FOR ALL
It is perhaps the failure by the ministry to act that has led to the “free-for-all”’ perception of Mombasa.
The country’s key markets of UK, USA, Italy, and Germany recorded a decline in 2012, which Mrs Kandie attributed to the Eurozone crisis and travel advisories issued prior to Kenya’s General Election.
Tourist arrivals to South Africa, Kenya’s fiercest competitor in bush and safari packages, increased by 10.2 per cent last year, compared to global industry growth of four per cent, with arrivals from Europe growing by nine per cent.
The group chief accountant at Rhino Safaris, Mr Joseph George, said Kenya was losing out to its rivals in terms of standards and cost of doing business.
“The industry’s cost of operation is high, translating to higher charges, yet our competing nations are cheaper with better products and high standards,” said Mr George.
According to him, Tanzania and South Africa, renowned for equally attractive bush and safaris, are giving Kenya a run for its money on the one hand while Zanzibar and Mauritius do the same with beach products on the other.
The government target to attract two million tourists this year is also in doubt after Mrs Kandie disclosed that the first half arrivals fell by 12 per cent.
The future looks dim for the industry after a UK-based campaign organisation warned of a worrying trend that may drastically cut earnings and increase numbers.