Our president is encouraging Kenyans to embrace Kenyan tourism. It is now the hype to say that Kenyans should tembea Kenya as Magical Kenya (Kenya Tourism Board) would say. Even as we applaud the efforts of the industry to entice Kenyans to visit the different hotels and destinations there are still a few challenges that need to be overcome.
Yesterday in the Daily Nation I read an article which echoes something I have thought for a long time and which also reaffirms a discussion we were having on twitter last week. The article was a letter to the editor entitled Hotel workers must change their attitudes towards local tourists.
The article talks about the attitude of owners and employees of hotels and I would also add airlines as well. There is an attitude at many of these hotels of discrimination against Kenyan tourists. This scenario would be familiar. You go to a hotel, sit down in a restaurant and wait patiently to be served. The waiters ignore you as they first serve western tourists, and they keep you waiting. Woe unto you if you are a black female on your own. It is even worse because it is assumed you are there for other interests not just to buy food.
Some friends of mine went to a hotel at the coast last year. They wanted to find out about the hotel’s facilities as they wanted to spend their honeymoon there. They were walking, and did not drive in. They got such bad treatment from the watchman first even before talking to the hotel staff. They were treated badly it’s as if because they walked in they could not afford to stay there or even have a meal there. This is what the letter was talking about, that when a mzungu comes in walking the treatment is different.
Personally there are places I would never go, not because I can’t afford it but because of the treatment my friends and family have gotten. I am not about to spend my money in a place that treats me as a second or third class citizen. I will go where I am celebrated not tolerated. As long as owners have an attitude towards Africans or black Kenyans the staff will also have an attitude. If the owner shows that biased treatment is not allowed and it will be punished then the staff will take this attitude also. It is also about training. Because let’s face it some stereotypes are ingrained in us from childhood, that some people are better than others and so they should be treated better.
Also I believe that we need the night travel ban to be removed. There has been a lot of debate on the same. People don’t seem to be sure if the travel ban is on or not. This article says that the court orders consultations on night travel ban and the Kenya Night travel ban on PSVs still stands, CS insists.
Even as Jambojet takes off as a low fare carrier we still have challenges using it. Right now they have promotional fares which are an incentive for travellers but these will not last forever. There have been complaints that when they say tickets are 3,000 that is not always the fare you get. The fares sometimes can go up to around 14,000 for a return ticket to Kisumu for example. Many are not able to pay this kind of money especially when travelling with children or luggage. The carrier has a very low limit of 10 kgs. If you are a lady and you are going on holiday at the coast this might not work for you (since we carry our whole closet when going on holiday. You know you have to wear a different outfit during the night.) This means that you have to pay for extra luggage starting from 500 Kenya shillings for any extra kg upto a certain limit. The luggage also has to fit into a compartment.
For many who travel for business or leisure using a bus works because they can take a night bus and arrives at their destination by morning. This means that Mombasa or Nairobi or Kisumu is easily accessible if somebody wants to go tembea Kenya. Tembea Kenya should not be boxed in as a concept where people should only go to other parts of the country for leisure but also for business. After all a lot of tourism all over the world is promoted by business travel. People like to kill two birds with one stone and enjoy the places that they go to for business. If they really like a place they are also bound to recommend it to others or even visit again with their families or friends.
I love to go to the coast. I have always gone there by private means or by bus. Sometimes alone but sometimes in groups. Sometimes we have hired a bus when it is a big group or sometimes we have just gone the traditional route and booked the most convenient bus to take us there. Taking a flight for me has not been an option as I currently find it too expensive (it will probably cost the same as the accommodation I would pay for the 3-5 days I will be there.) but now that Jambojet is there and it costs the same as a bus ticket things will change but only if the cost remains the same affordable rate of around 2,000 – 3,000.
Hotel accommodation in 3 to 5 stars is still very expensive in Kenya. Now that I work in the tourism industry I understand why people would rather go on holiday in South Africa or Dubai. You could end up having a cheaper holiday abroad then what you would spend at the same hotel at the coast. And these international destinations have a lot more to offer. Consider South Africa which has some of the following activities: wine tours and wine tasting in Cape Town, shopping festivals, sunset cruises, bungee jumping, Jazz Festivals, quad biking, open bus tours of the city, elephant rides, surfing and shark cage diving. Find out more here What’s your pleasure? South Africa is calling!
We need to develop our facilities to offer more than just watching animals or going swimming at the beach. Two months ago we had a visitor from South Africa. The things that I would tell him to do were the same things that were offered in South Africa. The animals are the same, the beaches are the same, so what is the value add to make him want to visit Kenya on holiday? The nightlife in Kenya is pretty interesting but it is not enough to make people travel all the way from other parts of Africa or the world to visit. Read this article about Botswana tourism and ask yourself are we on the right track with the Masan Mara?
Our hotels are geared towards tourist dollars but not towards encouraging local tourists to stay at these hotels. If you consider that the average middle class person probably earns between 25,000 and maybe 60,000 you will find that a week’s holiday or a three day holiday would cost as much as one’s salary for the month. This of course may be a deterrent for people to go on holiday. Of course there are cheaper options, you can find some great budget hotels to stay at but sometimes the service, facilities or food is not up to scratch.
There is still a lot to be done if as we tell Kenyans to tembea Kenya. Even as we boost and say that we do not need tourists from the west we can get them from the east we have to ask ourselves whether this numbers will translate to revenue worth taking about. Wall Street Journal wrote an article on Where Rich Chinese Are Traveling in 2014. The Chinese are also known to be frugal and large numbers may not necessarily translate to cash being pumped into the economy. We are also not in the list of the top countries where the Chinese are expected to go this year.
Let us not forget the issue of insecurity. I don’t know about you but I feel very insecure in this city of mine. Nowadays I avoid town as much as possible. If we don’t feel safe in our country we are not likely to travel. It is much safer to stay home and explore the world through books and movies. Let us not forget that the issue of insecurity is what is making the tourists from western countries not to come here. If we as Kenyans do not feel secure in our country and we do not want to travel then imagine how hard it will be to convince tourists to come here instead of going to countries that are considered much safer. As somebody said on twitter our country should not be made safe so that tourists can come here it should be made safe because we as Kenyans deserve it. Tourists do not have to live here. They are passing by, we have to live, love, work, go to school, have children and build the nation. Insecurity affects all of that. If we do not feel safe then tourism will definitely suffer.
So as we tighten our belts as tourists cancel bookings we need to come up with more concrete solutions about how we can make tembea Kenya work. Because just because we are hyping it up does not mean it will translate to money being made from Kenyans. We need to offer accommodation at better prices, hotels need to change attitudes towards local tourists, more fun activities need to be incorporated into tourism, security needs to be looked at, and the transport issue needs to also be looked at. Then we will gladly book our tickets; pack our luggage and tembea Kenya.
The view expressed here is personal.