Tourism players have been faulted for failing to invest in complementary facilities and services. CS Najib Balala said this has slowed the industry’s growth. He said no progress has been made since he urged hotel owners to invest in facilities other than lodging and game drives.
“The tourism sector may not be suffering because of security issues but because industry players have become boring,” Balala said. “We cannot continue with business as usual, we’ll become dinosaurs.” Despite growing tourism receipts, growth in numbers has been on a slow climb over the past decade.
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Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows international tourist arrivals hit a record high of 1.89 million in 2007 and have yet to reach such numbers ever since. Within the last decade, the industry has suffered major shocks due to insecurity, including the 2007-08 post-election violence that made arrivals dip by more than half in 2008 to 721,566 from the 1.8 million the previous year.
The industry has also had to grapple with al Shabaab attacks in major towns including Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Kwale and Garissa. KNBS data show that since 2008, the number of foreign visitors has increased by an average 200,000, with the exemption of the 2011-14 period when numbers declined from 1.26 million visitors to 861,395.
Balala said product diversity was the key to realising the sector’s goal of receiving three million tourists annually and growing revenue to at least Sh200 billion annually.
“We can see the numbers that have come in, the resilience of that number is because security has been beefed up, but nothing else has changed,” he said. In 2017, arrivals grew 9.8 per cent to 1.47 million, while revenue from tourism grew 20.3 per cent to Sh120 billion. Balala urged investors to deliver good experiences because it ensures visitors come back. Last month, Balala and the CSs for Interior (Fred Matiang’i) and Transport (James Macharia) made an early morning impromptu visit to the JKIA and found most staff were not at their stations to serve visitors. The staff were told to improve customer service.