(eTN) – With the world’s most important tourism fair, ITB in Berlin, just weeks away, the Kenyan tourism fraternity is getting ready to tell the world that all is not lost with East Africa’s leading destination. The Kenya Tourist Board and the private sector are now preparing a market offensive aimed at bringing the tourists back to the beaches and national parks. No tourist has come to harm during the period since the elections in late December 2007 and sector associations are working around the clock with security organs to stay abreast with the situation and keep their members fully briefed.
While the present situation is bleak, there is hope for a political settlement now on the horizon thanks to the efforts of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who for the past two weeks has been engaged in behind the scenes diplomatic efforts to bring the opposing sides together and have, in particular, the opposition drop their unrealistic demands for the good of the Kenyan nation.
Once a settlement has been reached the tourism industry is bound to engage in a global marketing campaign once again to rekindle interest in the country and kick-start the recovery from the present down turn of fortunes. The greater region also has a role to play in this scenario, as all other East African countries have lost business and will be well advised to join hands with Kenya to promote the region in an aggressive fashion, attract overseas tour operators to send fam trips to the region and convince the charter airlines to add capacity back on the routes to Nairobi and Mombasa to cater for the expected growth in demand.
Kenyan and other East African governmental authorities however must use this opportunity to introduce a single tourist visa for the entire region to bring not only the cost of visits down but also to encourage regional tours, which can help Kenya on their path to recovery. Travel for duly registered expatriates in the East African Community region also ought to be streamlined and the requirements for Visa, when visiting a neighboring country, must also be dropped if this important market is to be fully tapped. Further interventions should include the temporary or even lasting reduction in airport taxes for passengers, navigation – landing and parking fees on aircraft bringing visitors to the region and a range of regionally coordinated tax incentives for the sector to allow investments aimed at adding value and quality to the tourism industry. Finally, the tourist boards of the East African nations must be given a big enough budget to run a sustained campaign in existing and emerging markets, if the recovery is to be swift and sustained. Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are all expected to attend ITB also and offer some moral support to their Kenyan colleagues.
Meanwhile, news have emerged over Kenya now retaliating on travel bans slapped upon at least 10 politicians and business leaders by prohibiting the UK’s former High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, to return to his former diplomatic stomping ground. Sir Edward, during his time in office in Nairobi an outspoken and candid critic of corrupt practices amongst the Kenyan political elite and key members of government, again locked horns with the Kenyan establishment recently at the BBC’s Hard Talk program over the persisting violence in the country following allegedly rigged elections. In a first comment the former diplomat reportedly said the persona non grata status accorded to him by the Kenya government was a “pine chilling warning to others campaigning against Kenyan corruption.” Sir Edward also called for a coordinated position of Western countries like the US, Canada, Britain and the continental EU nations in their response towards Kenya.
The ban on Sir Edward is particularly hard on him in personal terms, as he reportedly acquired a piece of land and had planned to retire in Kenya, something the latest spat seems to make impossible for the time being.
Sources from within the diplomatic community in Nairobi also spoke of still more Kenyans suspected to be involved in the violence since the late December elections to be targeted for travel bans, which ordinarily also include the family members of the affected individuals. Such action can also lead to the freezing of assets and bank accounts in the respective countries, making possible targets amongst the Kenyan elite uncomfortable to say the least. Yet, any measure helping to end the violence and bringing peace back to the Kenyan population is welcome and in any case, culprits should swiftly be brought to justice irrespective of their political background.
In the meantime, the Kenyan government was compelled to accept international demands on a full and impartial investigation into the causes of the post election violence, with perpetrators due to face charges on “rimes against humanity,” one of the vilest acts imaginable. A spokesperson for the Kenya government however swiftly turned the heat on the opposition ODM, whom he accused of “planning, financing and executing systematic post election ethnic cleansing,” sadly as true as it sounds.