The tourism industry is stuck between protective measures and an exemption push being implemented by immigration and transport ministries that the sector says could hamper its efforts to attract international visitors to the country and recover to 2019 levels.
Outgoing tourism cabinet secretary Najib Balala says the sector faces challenges with limited flights, e-visa issues and budget cuts impacting promotional initiatives.
That comes as the sector saw 924,812 international tourists in the eight months to August, up 91.4 percent from 483,246 in the same period last year.
The sector is forecasting 1.46 million visitors by December, which will still be below the more than 2.04 million in 2019.
Mr Balala said restrictions on charter flights including KLM, Qatar, Turkish Airlines and Emirates to the Coast had depressed the number of tourists entering the country.
“Airlines like KLM, Qatar, Turkish Airlines and Emirates want to come and take visitors to the coast, but the Ministry of Transport has denied them permission. From Europe, there is a particular demand for direct flights to Mombasa airports. This has impacted key tourism markets like Italy, which depend on charter flights,” Mr Balala said.
Players have asked the government to implement the Open Skies policy to ensure the hubs attract more international airlines.
“This is an ongoing discussion… There is an element of saving our Kenya Airways but I don’t think we are increasing our numbers by stopping other airlines. These are the issues that need to be seriously discussed and addressed, otherwise we will not be able to increase the number of tourists to 2019 levels.”
Mr Balala has raised concerns that travelers visiting Kenya are complaining about an e-visa approval, which takes a month.
He said visa delays and airport inefficiencies are discouraging visitors from visiting the country.
“The other challenge is the e-visa. The visa works and sometimes it doesn’t work. And there are so many fake websites about people applying for Kenyan visa. The Minister of Immigration needs to clean up this website and make visa processing more seamless and efficient as it can be frustrating for any country.”
Sector revenue for the eight-month period was Sh167.10 billion compared to Sh83.16 billion in the similar period in 2021, with a forecast of Sh265.39 billion for the full year versus Sh146.51 billion for 2021
Mr Balala supports a move that would see the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) levy a 2% tourism tax on hotels and restaurants, currently the Tourism Fund’s mandate, a move that has been opposed by some stakeholders.
The move to turn collection over to the KRA stems from several state agencies outsourcing services to the tax officer, who is seen as more efficient at the task.
Once approved, the tax officer collects the fee on the gross sales resulting from accommodation, food, beverages and all other services provided at proposed facilities.
The tourism fund raised an average of Sh2.5 billion for the year ended June 2020, according to the Auditor-General’s report, before the fund plummeted to Sh1.1 billion the following year as Covid-19 hit the sector.
“The cost of collecting tourism funds is currently 48 percent versus four percent of the KRA cost. It’s not possible. We need this money to support tourism so it’s not an administrative cost and that’s why we need KRA,” he added.
He said the industry will need Sh20 billion annually to invest in the sector and promote destinations in global source markets, a move hampered by lower budget allocations.
The Kenya Tourism Board, Kenya National Convention Bureau, Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency and Tourism Research Institute are expected to be merged into Promotion Kenya.
The new entity will report to the Ministry of Commerce, Industrialization and Enterprise Development, off the traditional tourism list, which was also rejected.
“We have to merge these institutions, reduce operating costs and rehabilitate tourism infrastructure because there is not enough money to market Kenya.”