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Bad press hurting tourism, says Balala

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 7 – Tourism Minister Najib Balala is calling for dialogue over the contentious Kenya Communication Amendment Bill 2008 that has caused friction between the media and the government.

While admitting that some provisions in the Bill may not be positive, Mr Balala appealed for calm pointing out that the constant bad press emanating from the issue is negatively affecting the tourism industry.

“Let us own up as Parliament and government that there have been some oversights and admit a mistake has been done and then unite to correct this mistake, rather than to be seen like were fighting,” Mr Balala said.

He added: “For me in the tourism sector this notion about instability in government creates an impression of volatility in the country which is not positive for the tourism industry,” he said.

He told Capital Business News in an interview that the industry relied on good press to market Kenya as a prime tourist destination and the bad publicity was defeating the re-building course that the ministry embarked on mid-last year to erase negative publicity generated by the post election violence.

“The media can make or break the tourism industry of a country,” he stated.

The minister who will be travelling abroad this Friday said he would be able better gauge the kind of impact the debate has had so far.

Mr Balala further noted that Africa as a whole had suffered a negative image and any debate that borders on an oncoming by-election scares away interested visitors.

“Visitors are scared of elections in Africa since most turn out to be violent. Just look at what happened in the country early last year.  Would you be keen to visit such a destination?” he asked.

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Mr Balala said the new law has some positive gains like allowing e-transactions which the tourism sector in the country stands to gain hugely from.

“You are aware that the sector has been losing a lot of money because we could not buy a package on the internet locally in the country unless we went through a portal in Europe or in those advanced economies,” he said.

He pointed out that as a result of this impediment, the country had not been able to tap into the nearly 80 percent of targeted tourists that shop for its trips on the web.

The law, he observed, would allow companies to come up with partnerships that should bring local hotels, airlines, and transport companies together.

“With local portals there will be no need for agents thus allowing direct payments to suppliers hugely benefiting locals,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Balala has denied claims that there is a change of leadership at the helm of the country’s tourism marketing body, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).

While admitting that there were some issues that needed to be resolved at the board, Mr Balala clarified that its Chief Executive Dr Achieng Ongo’nga was on annual leave and Human Resource Manager Veronica Birgen was acting in his capacity.

The minister promised to make an official statement if any changes take place in the future. 

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