My family arrived back home one evening in July to fine weather, having experienced very moody variations in the United Kingdom.
The Immigration entry was fine but rather slow. With over eight counters, only four were manned, and yet large planes were landing.
One would expect at least six counters to be operational to process arrivals quickly. After over seven hours flying, you just want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible.
Baggage collection took nearly an hour. We waited endlessly as one bag dropped on the belt in ‘drip-drop’ fashion.
In the meantime, someone was removing bags from the belt and keeping them on the side without letting passengers know.
Why should baggage collection take an hour, the equivalent of the flight time to Dar es Salaam? When we finally got ‘all’ our luggage, we forgot one due to exhaustion.
We thought we were on our way home, but alas there was another queue at the Customs exit.
Usually there are the ‘Nothing to Declare’ and ‘Something to Declare’ lanes. The ‘Nothing to Declare’ lane was closed and there was a temporary barrier manned by one tobacco-smelling man.
He checked every passport. I assumed he was looking for some paedophile or criminal trying to escape justice in America or Europe, or illegal immigrants and those getting in with illegal work permits, remember the British robber who was caught in Dubai recently having travelled from Kenya, where he had been hiding from Her Majesty’s justice?
The result was a very long queue. It took almost 30 minutes per passenger.
Our flight landed at 9:40pm and we finally left the airport at 11:45 pm — a good two hours later. On the plane I had met an American family visiting Kenya for the first time and
I was yapping about how wonderful it is and how they were going to have a great holiday. I avoided them at the arrivals lest they asked me whether this was the experience I had spoken about.
While in the UK, we visited various places in Scotland, and, particularly Edinburgh. The streets of Edinburgh were teaming with visitors from all over the world. We even met a Burundian family living in Sweden, who had come on holiday.
The shops are massive and were full, with the cash machines clanking every second. What does this mean? Jobs everywhere in the massive services industry and imagine how much food is eaten and the implication on demand for farm produce.
What was there to see in Edinburgh? It was mainly ‘shopping’ and historical buildings. What about London? London was bursting at the seams with visitors. Edinburgh’s mega shops (some occupying four floors) were full with shoppers and the tills ringing.
What to see? Overpriced historical sights, apart from freebies such as Big Ben and Westminster, ‘attractions’ that included the London-Eye at £125 for a family ticket and a tour of Buckingham Palace state rooms that cost as much.
My children were disappointed that the palace wasn’t as grand as they thought.
We felt really robbed. At the end of our visit, we asked the children whether they’d like to live in the UK, and London, in particular, and there was a resounding NO.
Our visit to Dubai last year was basically the same. We were sold ‘hot air’, very little value for money.
For the same amount, I can’t imagine what we would have got had we gone to the South Coast or Zanzibar.
We have a beautiful country, which we have paid lip service at marketing and more particularly, customer experience. When you enter the UK on a valid visa, entry is as smooth as a whistle with friendly Immigration and Customs officials.
Queues can sometimes be long at Heathrow, but once you clear with Immigration, your bags will be on the belt. London and the UK felt secure. Kenya is beautiful and grossly undersold.
In December 2014, our hotel in the Maasai Mara was less than half full and I counted less than 20 tour vans. The Mount Kenya climb, though more scenic than Kilimanjaro, is pitiful, with very poor accommodation.
When we think of jobs, we think of big projects costing billions of shillings, yet there are quick wins that can deliver amazing results.
What to do? Reconstitute and rethink tourism, including marketing and keep our attractions secure, cities clean and attractive.
There is no attraction in mediocracy, dirty cities, slums and insecurity, all symptoms of a broken system.
Dr Ochieng is an economic geography and financial sector specialist. [email protected] Mutuma Mathiu’s column resumes next week.