Kenya should develop alternative forex earners

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BY MUSYOKI KIVINDYO

Kenya’s geographical location in the East African region has provided the country with myriad resources to exploit.

Whereas dairy farming, fishing, horticulture, coffee, tea, and mining continue to grow, tourism still seems to be the leading foreign exchange earner for Kenya.

The country heavily relies on tourism.  According to the Ministry of Tourism, the industry contributed 11 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010.

The country is a choice destination for visitors mainly arriving from the United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Germany and France, with a limited number from other European countries – Australia, Spain and Switzerland.

A “traditional” tourism package may include an overnight stay at a City hotel on arrival, then off to one of the many game reserves like the Maasai Mara, Amboseli or Tsavo. The trip would usually be crowned with two or three nights stay at the North or South coast.

Kenya has over the years positioned itself very well as the Safari country, the land of the Big Five. Therefore, the work that successive Tourism Ministries and tourism sector players have done must be generously applauded.

The point to note here is that other African countries like Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and neighbouring Tanzania also have similar packages. What then in the differentiator for Kenya?

Can we occupy a dominant position in the region for another 10 years, selling the same product? The aftermath of the 2007 elections saw massive cancellation of holiday bookings, adversely affecting tourist arrivals.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service 2008 Annual report, within two weeks of the post election violence, bed night bookings fell from 40,000 to a measly 2,000. Similarly, a volcanic eruption in Iceland nearly crippled Kenya’s flower and horticulture industry. Air transport into Europe was almost shut down due to ash-clogged European skies.  European markets being the largest importers of Kenyan produce, this left us with nowhere to sell the bouquets.

It is safe, therefore, to say that any untoward events affecting these industries have a major domino effect on a large chunk of the economy. Kenya ought to re-look at the total package the country can offer and aggressively develop other products/assets that can compliment tourism.

The country has a great opportunity in marketing itself as a major commercial hub for East Africa and the Great Lakes region. The Mombasa port and JKIA offer a platform towards this direction.

It is imperative therefore, that a 21st Century state of the art cargo handling systems be installed at the port. Only super efficient Internal Container depots, world class facilities at JKIA and smooth roads will ensure speed, efficiency and reduction of costs.

A fast and efficient rail system to replace the 100 year old redundant railway line would earn Kenya billions in transporting goods inland and to other landlocked countries. This should be a matter of national importance and needs to be executed with lightning speed.

The first score for Kenya would be with our “customers” in the great lakes region, who heavily rely on Mombasa port for cargo destined for the region.

Concerns have been raised by our neighbours from Uganda all the way to DR Congo, on the slow inland movement of containers.  

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has been variously referred to as the hub of East and Central Africa, due to the scores of connections it provides to countries in the region.

This will be another mega forex earner once the airport is expanded and facilities scaled up to meet international standards of the day. Light years ahead of Kenya but a good example to learn from, is Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

This is one of the major airport transit hubs in Europe efficiently handling over 40 million business and tourist passengers per year. Schiphol Airport is served by trains, taxis, shuttle buses and car rental companies, with the train service running 24 hours a day.

The airport has six runways and facilities to handle 1.8 million tonnes of cargo.  There are several airport hotels at and around Amsterdam Airport, including two transit hotels inside the terminal building itself.

Passengers with short layovers do not have to leave the airport at all.  Assume that the 40 million passengers at Amsterdam each spends an average of just US $100.

This translates to US$ 4 billion changing hands at that airport.  Business Process Outsourcing has been pointed as the way to go, for Kenya to stand a chance of attracting foreign investment.

The Government has made remarkable progress with the upcoming Malili Technopolis, in Machakos, to replicate what is already happening in Smart City in Cairo, Eqypt, Rabat Technopolis and Dubai Internet City among others.

If it is a case of not putting all your eggs in one basket, then Kenya should aggressively and with purpose move to strengthen and diversify income for the country.

(Kivindyo is the Communication Director at the Brand Kenya Board)

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