The Ministry of Tourism in Nairobi has declared 2010 to be the year when domestic tourism is to be supported and brought to the forefront, hoping to achieve by 2012 a 50 percent margin of business to be generated from within Kenya and the nearby region across the EAC.
The Domestic Tourism Council, introduced to boost this market segment, is generally thought to have failed its objective and is reportedly due to be dissolved, with the Kenya Tourist Board sensibly taking over the function. It is also understood, as a result of interaction with leading tourism stakeholders, that a new policy framework aimed at the domestic market, is due to be developed in the future. This is clearly in recognition of the role domestic tourism played in saving the hospitality industry during the hard times of 2008 and early 2009, when its contributions to bed occupancies literally rescued the industry.
However, obstacles exist in tapping fully into the regional expatriate market, as the visa requirement remains in place even for duly-registered expats working for instance in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. It has long been a demand from tourism experts in the region to scrap the visa requirement for such expats and at the same time introduce a regional tourist visa, permitting overseas visitors to travel to more than one Eastern African country without having to pay for one visa after the other.
It is commendable, however, that Kenya has maintained the US$25 visa fee, which was introduced last year, when the original fee of US$50 was slashed in half, as it has helped the Kenyan tourism industry to benefit from rising visitor numbers, at least partly influenced by the more affordable visa cost.
While entering Kenya recently and raising these issues while filling cumbersome forms at the visa desk in Nairobi, two of the immigration officers on duty rubbished these decisions by their political masters, claiming “they are taking our money, they should bring the US$50 back,” and they equally denounced any move towards a common tourist visa for the region, again claiming “that only cuts our money even more” – those two clearly need some re-tooling and indoctrination towards the fact that such decisions are made on the political level, and they have to implement them, not obstruct them.