Gleam of hope for tourism
On March 27, all roads led to Mombasa, Kenya, for a joint business meeting organized by Uganda and Kenya and the two Presidents of both countries actually attended. The meeting gathered ministers, key business persons from both countries to discussing topics of mutual interest for the growth. I was personally hesitated to go because my wife and daughter were traveling same week and did not want them to leave without me saying a goodbye.
I also do not like meetings where people talk and do not come up with real solutions for the existing problems. I only made the journey after my family blessed it. I took a morning flight aboard Kenya Airways to join two Kenya friends (Shivam Vanayak and wife) out of Nairobi to Mombasa and thankfully, they had managed to secure three tickets on Madaraka train. Securing seats on the train from Nairobi to Mombasa is an uphill task because of high traffic.
I had been to Nairobi a number of times with an aim of securing seats and failed because of the demand. The business class is even worse because the tickets are booked out first way in advance.
The staff of Madaraka train dress more like air hostesses with a proper Kenyan hospitality. The train carries about 1,500 people each way and there are two trains departing Nairobi daily for Mombasa and vice versa which means 3,000 individuals are dropped into Mombasa daily which is a massive business opportunity for the Mombasa service providers such as hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers, entertainment joints, boats, bars, etc.
The train goes through Tsavo National Park which is Kenya’s largest and oldest standing at 13,747 square kilometers. While on the train, we also saw the 300 kilometer long Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world. Tsavo is home to the larger mammals, vast herds of elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, lions, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodiles, water bucks, lesser kudu, genenuk and the prolific bird life.
At the business forum in Mombasa, I was given an opportunity to address the audience which included President Museveni and President Uhuru Kenyatta on behavior Uganda and Kenyan tourism group. My address focused on seven points we had agreed upon before the Presidents arrived at Sarova sands where the meeting took place.
The first point focused on the flights between the East African countries especially Kenya and Uganda. Our observations are that the tickets between Uganda and Kenya are very expensive because of the high taxes levied by both governments. Kenya for example charges $50 on every ticket and Uganda charges $57 which makes a total of $107. That figure is what should be the cost of a ticket between the two countries. We actually recommended that flights between the two countries be domesticated.
The second point focused on the East African tourists’ visas which have Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda working together. Our proposal was that the two presidents convince the Tanzanian leadership to join the good arrangements. Many tourists are finding it easy paying $100 for a visa that covers the above three nations which allows them to move back and forth.
Since some local airline operators such as coastal want to fly into Ugandan national parks, it would positively affect the tourism business between the four nations. The third point focused on politics. Overtime, we as the tourism operators in the region have seen politics affect tourism a lot especially during campaigns and since insecurity and tourism can’t co-exist, foreign tourists will fear to travel in the region.
The leaders were asked to remember what their actions mean to business and practice restrain. This particular point was well received by both leaders and we hope to see some change with time. The fourth point focused on trans-boundary tourism opportunities which focus on the shared tourism attractions such as Lake Victoria and Mountain Elgon.
The tourism fraternity feels we need a combined effort in exploiting the above because we miss out on potential billions of dollars that could come out of activities such as cruises, sport fishing, water transport, accommodations on the shores and the many islands found on the lake. We also talked about the joint marketing opportunities across the globe that would see millions flock to Uganda and Kenya hence more revenues.
We asked the presidents to go easy on the yellow card requirements for citizens from both countries because it inconveniences the business travelers most since they are frequent.