The confirmation that Kenya’s tourism industry is facing imminent collapse is depressing.
Contributing about 60 per cent of the GDP, tourism is not only a leading foreign exchange earner, it is a major sector providing employment for many Kenyans. Its collapse would trigger enormous economic challenges to an already strained economy.
Even though President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed Western tourists as inconsequential, most reports indicate that this critical industry nosedived due to the unprecedented decline in the number of tourists from Western countries.
The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers has confirmed that about 40,000 Kenyans will lose their jobs by the end of April if drastic measures are not taken.
Mrs Phyllis Kandie, the Cabinet secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, and the government must deploy swift measures to mitigate this situation.
Although this downturn was expected to manifest as a side effect of rampant insecurity, the adverse effects of Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks and travel advisories from Western countries have unleashed near-epic losses, with 23 hotels at the coast shut and more on the verge of going out of business in the coming weeks.
This depressing news comes against the backdrop of the ineffective approach taken by the government to clean up Kenya’s image abroad. It has entered into a contract with US firm Podesta Group to improve the country’s interests and image in the West for $360,000 (Sh32.4 million) a year.
The government has another contract with a firm led by former British prime minister Tony Blair to assist with implementing Jubilee’s projects, and a British public relations firm, Grayling Global, to help repair Kenya’s image abroad. This begs the question: Can these firms and international personalities improve Kenya’s image abroad when the system at home remains severely dilapidated by inefficiency, corruption, and rampant insecurity?
In my opinion, spending taxpayers’ money in an attempt to spruce up Kenya’s image abroad when the system at home is broken is a waste of resources that should be channelled to better use. The process of marketing Kenya abroad must start by cleaning up our systems at home.
First, the Jubilee administration should move expeditiously to contain runaway insecurity so that residents and foreigners can start regaining their diminished confidence in their country.
Second, the government must end corruption and promote a stable political environment to boost investor confidence and enhance ethical standards for doing businesses.
Third, the government and the Ministry of Tourism should adopt aggressive tourism marketing strategies, repair dilapidated infrastructure, and promote domestic tourism.
Finally, officials in the Ministry of Tourism should be creative and start diversifying the industry by exploring other forms of tourism.
If these are implemented, our image abroad will automatically improve our image in the eyes of the international community as our work at home will promote our image abroad.
Mr Ambuka is a Kenyan living and working in Philadelphia, US.