Kenya Wildlife Service raises park entrance fees causing tourism concerns

A section of tourism stakeholders has condemned the rise in park entrance fees, as just gazetted retrospectively to December 23, 2013, as the wrong message and the wrong move at a time when tourism is in a state of decline.

“Key issues raised with government last year, like the VAT on tourism services, have been ignored. Requests for added funding for KTB [Kenya Tourist Board] to start a recovery marketing campaign for the coast have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, we as an industry have been assaulted by demands left, right, and center from even counties who try to extract yet more taxes and fees from tourism businesses. Raising park fees at this time for Amboseli to US$90 per person, per day, and for Tsavo to US$75 per person, per day, is only adding to the troubles, but KWS also has gone deaf to the plight of the tourism sector.

“Occupancies, this year kept up over the holidays only because of the support by Kenyans, have dropped sharply. At the south coast, average room occupancy is now down to just 50 percent last week and bed occupancy to 46 percent. The highest room occupancy among the resorts is 78 percent, and the lowest was given as 11 percent. Prebookings and forecasts are not showing any sign that this will improve, and there are two outcomes to this. One is that some resorts will have to close down with a considerable loss of jobs. The second is that the fewer guest we have will also find that going on safari from Mombasa to Tsavo and Amboseli suddenly has become even more expensive, first through the VAT and now through the extra US$10 per person, per night, on entrance fees.

“I can now only say that government should take a hard look in the mirror and take decisive measures [on] how to revive coast tourism. We were the backbone for decades, and now are just being neglected. We have handed government one memorandum after another, and all we get is words and hot air which borders on contempt. It feels like your house is on fire, and the fire brigade comes the next day when your house has burnt down and then makes an announcement how much water they have just saved,” let one regular coast source fly, showing the disgust which is now taking hold in the sector over the silence from government to any and all pleas for support.

Students’ and childrens’ fees have also gone up substantially, as have entrance fees for Kenyans, which instead of encouraging more wananchi to visit the parks at preferential entrance fees is now causing a clear segregation between those who can afford the sharply-hiked fees and those who no longer can do so. In view of the weekend, no comments could be received from KWS nor are any of substance now expected as the new fee structure has already been implemented at the gates. Another Nairobi-based source added his scorn when she ranted: “The next thing you hear they raised it to US$100, because it makes accounting easier. These people are just plain ignorant of current market trends and what the combination with the VAT add-ons to safari prices has already done to our business. We are already struggling to rebuild Kenya’s reputation as a safe destination, and the combination of price hikes and market perception is probably making for a very, very tough year for us.”

Understandable sentiments those are and with irrefutable evidence now at hand that south coast occupancies have dropped way below last year’s at the same time – and 2013 was already showing a downward trend compared to the record breaking year of 2012 – this is going to make an even stronger case for the Kenya government to reverse their direction and finally listen, and act, on the outcries of the sector.