Kenya tourism blames VAT on park fees for downturn

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Less visitors on safari, less park fees earned – this is a simple equation.

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Less visitors on safari, less park fees earned – this is a simple equation. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), suffered a serious downturn in financial fortunes over the past year, but when the organization attributed the negative trend simply to the prevailing situation vis-a-vis anti-travel advisories, several key stakeholders were swift to react with their own version of the situation.

“It was the government’s bad decision to slap [a] 16 percent VAT on entrance fees which fueled the decline in park visitors,” was a regular Mombasa-based source swift to claim before adding, “And it is not that we did not warn them. Raisng park fees to start with, into a declining market was wrong. Adding VAT on tourism services was and is the wrong move. Tourism is globally acknowledged to be an invisible export. Exports of the conventional kind are not subject to VAT. Making tourism services a VAT item was not just wrong but brought two government policies into conflict. To compound it, … government [has] not listened to a thing we told them, and faced with the consequences of their action now they lament and blame.

“I am sure that the document our leaders produced how best to find a way into recovery includes that issue, to remove VAT from tourism services. But, of course, it also requires financial discipline by government of various levels to live within their means. The new layers of government, while meant to be of benefit for Kenyans, have been disappointing to say the least. In fact, were we to vote again on the constitution, we would kick it out, now that we know how it created more political fat cats.”

KWS meanwhile feels the crunch at a time when more manpower and investment in high tech is required to keep the poaching menace under control, tasks hard to reconcile and finance when income has dropped by significant margins. The level of poaching rhinos and elephant last year reached the highest levels for many years, and in fact only days after President Uhuru Kenyatta burned tons of confiscated blood ivory in an act of defiance to show the world that the ivory trade needs to be banned for good, reports came in from one of the poaching hotspots in the Tsavo area that a further seven elephant had been slaughtered for their tusks.

“I don’t want to gloat, but it is exactly what we told this government, and they did not listen. Their choices were all wrong about tourism since they came to office, and the Kibaki government too made huge errors in judgment when they cut tourism marketing funding ahead of an election year. Frankly, they just had no clue what they were doing, and the minister then, like the minister now, lacked the force to bang the cabinet table like Balala [Najib Balala, one of Kenya’s most highly-regarded tourism ministers, who was sacked by his then party leader Raila Odinga when he stood up to him and called him a dictator] did when he fought for the tourism sector. It has all just horribly gone wrong and every day delay to act on the recommendations of the tourism recovery taskforce will bring more misery,” let a regular coast-based contributor fly when asked yesterday to comment, before asking not to be named.

Be that as it may, KWS and Kenya’s tourism industry does face challenges, and it is high time that the organization gets a new board of directors to help guide the organization and find a way forward in conjunction with Kenya’s private tourism sector to revive what used to be a backbone and pillar of the local economy.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.