NAIROBI, November 3 – Marketing East Africa as a single tourism destination may be the key to overcoming the challenges facing the sector in the face of an economic downturn in some of its key source markets.
Tourism Minister Najib Balala says this is among the key discussions in the ongoing East African Community Tourism Ministers meeting taking place in Arusha.
Mr Balala observed that if some of these hurdles were to be overcome the region would better gain from the tourism trade.
“What is most important for the East African Community is to appreciate that we are a long-haul destination. If we don’t work together we will not benefit. We need to start coming out of the box by opening our borders when there is traffic between our countries," Mr Balala said.
“For instance Kenyan tour vehicles are not allowed to go to Tanzania, yet we allow them to come to our country, so we need to open the border post between Maasai Mara and Serengeti to reduce the cost of transport between the two countries and better benefit from the wildebeest migration,” added the Minister.
Supporting the Minister’s stand, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) Chairman Jake Grieves-Cook said such practice was common among Pacific, Caribbean and some European countries which have regional associations.
“If you have negative images being beamed on television about Africa, it affects all destinations in the region,” Mr Grieves-Cook pointed out.
Meanwhile, the Board is yet to receive the Sh1 billion promised by the President to help in marketing the country to counter the negative effects of the post election violence.
KTB Managing Director Dr Achieng Ong’ong’a said this has however not deterred the body from aggressively pursuing its plans of marketing the country as a key tourist destination.
“We had applied for this money with the knowledge that there are other needy areas but we are very positive that the money is coming, the delay is unfortunate but there is very little we can do about it,” he said. “We know we are losing in certain areas, we had made certain commitments but we believe they will be honoured, with assurance coming from the President and the Tourism Minister we believe this funds should be coming soon,”
Dr Ong’ong’a said the body had so far spent about Sh150 million in various marketing initiatives and is looking to double its efforts in key markets as well as emerging markets which have shown resilience during this period.
At the same time, KTB said it was benefiting from the weak shilling. “Tourism is an export industry so many Kenyan companies are being able to give better discounts to their customers. For instance, in March a tour company was earning Sh64 to the dollar but now they are earning about Sh78 to the same, making it possible to offer good deals at no loss to themselves,” Mr Grieves-Cook said.