IMPACT

Protests will cost country tourism earnings, jobs – CS Mutua

Major conferences have been rescheduled amid hotel booking cancellations.

In Summary

•The Meetings, Incentives Travel Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) segment has already been hit, as major events remain postponed.

•There have also been requests to cancel bookings by the international market, albeit in low numbers, which affects the leisure and holiday segment.

Security personnel keeping vigil at the Jacaranda beach area of Watamu as tourists enjoy their holiday
Security personnel keeping vigil at the Jacaranda beach area of Watamu as tourists enjoy their holiday
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

Continued countrywide anti-government protests are threatening to wipe out tourism earnings with imminent job losses in the sector, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua has warned.

The Meetings, Incentives Travel Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) segment has already been hit, as major events remain postponed.

Among them is the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS) Assembly of Ministers, Ushirika Day Celebration,Technical University-TRI Project Finding validation Workshop, Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Alumni Trade Fair and Expo, and Halal Event Brite.

The events had been scheduled to take place at the Kenyatta Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), with management now saying they have been “rescheduled to future dates.”

There have also been requests to cancel bookings by the international market, albeit in low numbers, which affects the leisure and holiday segment.

“We are lucky that we have not seen a major dent or cancellation as a result of what has been happening. However, if the unsettledness continues, it will hurt the sector leading to a reduction in our earnings, possibility of loss of jobs, and freezing of new opportunities,” Mutua said.

This could derail the country’s growth plans and a 2.2 million international arrivals target for the current financial year, where earnings are projected to hit Sh359.1 billion.

This is up from Sh352.5 billion recorded last year as international arrivals increased to 1.96 million, up from 1.48 million visitors in 2022– ourism Research Institute (TRI) data.

Earnings are expected to further rise to Sh396.1 billion next year.

Kenya plans to reach 5.5 million international by 2028, in an ambitious plan that involves the private sector, especially on marketing destinations. The country’s best year remains 2019 when arrivals hit a high of 2.04 million visitors.

“We have a few postponements of bookings mainly for events but we are

also receiving new bookings. Our upward trends may have been slightly

slowed down, but the sector is stable and we are ready for the high season which is ongoing,” Mutua said, as he called for an end to the “unsettledness.”

He noted that tourism is a leisure industry that depends on a sense of security and predictability.

"Kenya is one of many nations competing for tourism and visitors will choose to come to us depending on how we present and market ourselves to them. Image is important if we are to maximize on our amazing product,” he said.

The tourism and wildlife sector is one of largest employers in our country with 80 per cent of the employees being youth.

Mutua’s caution comes a week after hoteliers in the country also called for calmness, noting that violent protests are a threat to the industry.

According to the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC), hotels have reported requests for cancellations from both the international and domestic markets, pegged on the demonstrations being witnessed across the country.

The demos continued this week despite President William Ruto's decision to withdraw the contentious Finance Bill 2024.

KAHC chief executive Mike Macharia said protests have traditionally hurt tourism, calling on Kenyans to end the protests, as international source markets are becoming jittery.

"By and large the business is going on well though we have received requests for cancellations. We are urging our clients to continue with their visits,” Macharia told the Star.

Last year, top five tourists sources for Kenya were the US with 265,307 arrivals, Uganda (201,620) Tanzania (157,818), United Kingdom (156,701), India (94,273) and Germany (77,907).

The majority (45%) or 875,272 were in the country for holiday or leisure, followed by those visiting friends and relatives (465,851, while business and conferences accounted for 461,042 visitors. 

While the US remains the top source, European markets remain key for Kenya's tourism industry, with major sources being UK, Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

The government has assured tourists the country is safe as Kenya remains a leading safari and beach destination.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star