Interview: Phyllis Kandie
What specific measures can be taken to improve the overall performance of the tourism sector?
PHYLLIS KANDIE: Currently we are in the process of executing a major recovery programme that is geared towards turning around the image and perception of Kenya among potential visitors and, subsequently, the fortunes of the tourism sector.
Central to this strategy is the recent creation of the Tourism Recovery Task Force and the setting up of a Crisis Management Committee in the ministry as provided for in the Tourism Act 2011.
In the immediate term, the tourism strategy is aimed at reassuring markets on the security measures being taken by the government to contain the recent incidences of terrorism and insecurity. To this end, the government has devoted a significant portion of the budget, amounting to billions of Kenyan shillings, to security. In addition, the Tourism Police unit has been revamped and equipped with vehicles, training and other resources to enable them to more effectively discharge their duties.
In the medium term, we intend to diversify our tourism products and markets. As you are aware, Kenya is endowed with splendid and diverse attractions ranging from white sandy beaches, a snow-capped mountain on the equator, captivating wildlife, the magnificent lakes on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rich cultural attractions and, of course, important locations with respect to the evolution of mankind.
Lastly, we shall soon be embarking on a major rebranding campaign in order to position Kenya among the top tourism destinations in the world.
How can Kenya maintain its competitiveness among new source markets, and what sort of infrastructure improvements are planned?
KANDIE: The ministry, in conjunction with the private sector, is instituting measures aimed at improving the standards of hotels and other facilities. The newly operational Tourism Regulatory Authority will take care of regulations and enforce standards.
A number of initiatives are under way that will help make Kenya more competitive as a tourist destination. Unprecedented investment is being made in transport infrastructure ranging from the construction of 10,000 km of new roads, the construction of the standard-gauge railway and commuter rail system in major cities, and the expansion of the Jomo Kenyatta International airport. In terms of utilities, an additional 5000 MW is being added to the grid and improvements are being made to the water supply service. Finally, the construction of a new international conference/exhibition centre near Nairobi is expected to boost the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions segment.
As a result of these improvements, we have seen significant growth in the number of international hotel chains established in Kenya in the last two years including major players such as Kempinski, Radisson Blue, as well as the development of Mahali Mzuri in the Maasai Mara, which is part of the Virgin Limited Edition luxury brand.
We are also working with neighbouring states in the East African Community through the single tourist visa initiative and a joint marketing strategy.
To what extent have the recent security issues impacted the tourism sector?
KANDIE: Kenya, like many other countries in the world, has been facing terrorism-related challenges over the past year. Consequently, tourism numbers fell by 15% as of December 2013 due to the negative publicity and the resultant travel advisories in key source markets. However, largely due to the steps and measures the government has put in place, I am confident that the sector is on its path to recovery. The Ministry of Tourism has also created a crisis management committee to help ensure that important security briefs can reach the public quickly.
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