Africa: Najib Balala has revived tourism sector, but Kenyans must now guard the gains
Today he talks about the revival of Kenya’s tourism sector, why Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala must be commended for bringing back TUI, the world’s largest leisure, travel and tourism company to Kenya, and the role Kenyans can and must play to guard the gains made so far in the tourism sector.
A rather extraordinary story is unfolding at the Kenyan coastal region. It could as well be a story for the ages.
On Wednesday, November 7, 2018, TUI, the largest tour operator in the world resumed charter flights to Mombasa.
It flew in 120 tourists from Holland and will henceforth be flying into Mombasa twice a week, bringing with it about 360 visitors weekly.
Remarkably, this came just a few days after the launch of TUI Belgium charter flights and Poland’s LOT, which landed with 315 and 250 visitors respectively. LOT will be landing twice weekly with an average of 500 visitors, taking to 15 the number of charter flights flying tourists into Mombasa every single week.
For starters, TUI is not your ordinary tour operator. The German travel and tourism company is the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world and owns travel agencies, hotels, cruise ships and retail stores. This is not to mention six European airlines, the largest holiday fleet in Europe.
The company halted its operations in Kenya in 2014 at the height insecurity occasioned by terror attacks at the coast.
At the time, the tourism sector went flat on its belly as injurious travel warnings by governments of key tourist source countries took their toll. Mombasa lost over 70 per cent of international arrivals, forcing dozens of tourist hotels to shut down and rendering thousands of Kenyans jobless.
Not even a radical raft of measures announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta, including scrapping of VAT on air tickets and park entrance fees, could save the ailing sector from near-collapse.
The government eventually decided to get hold of the bull by the horns and instituted a number of measures to conquer terrorism, top among them unprecedented multi-agency cooperation involving the National Intelligence Service, the military, the police and regional administrators that ultimately proved critical in silencing Al Shabaab in 2015. With the terrorists largely defeated, the mantle shifted to tour marketers to convince the world that Kenya was no longer a ‘terror hotbed’.
Three years down line, this has been achieved and tourists, including those from the most sensitive markets, are trooping back to Kenya, especially Mombasa, once again.
Only last month, the city hosted the 79th edition of the World Skal Congress, the first ever such congress in Africa, rubber-stamping the reclamation of its former glory as the country’s leading tourism and cultural hub.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala particularly deserves a pat on the back for his leading role in the recovery. Somehow, he has efficiently and tirelessly marketed the country, with his lobbying key to the resumption of TUI flights.
But amid the ongoing revival, history has taught that we cannot afford to lower our guard as we engage in a celebratory stupor. Having gone the full cycle, we have collectively experienced the heavy cost of insecurity and cannot afford to slide back to the hands of death-hawking anarchists.
Security starts with you and me and, truth be told, we started conquering terrorism the moment we started reporting suspicious characters and objects around us to authorities; as opposed to take selfies with them.
It all started the moment we agreed to be our brothers’ keepers, the moment we started being overly alert and conscious of our surroundings.
This is the spirit we must all uphold. It is the spirit Wanjiku and Halima must uphold as they troop back to their hotel jobs in North Coast.
To safeguard their jobs and the wellbeing of the country, let it not be lost on them that they are Kenya’s first line of defense by default and must be ready to detect and instantly report anyone or anything that portends a threat to national security.
In such an environment, terrorists and other criminal minds will find it hard to survive among us; and we will together savour the journey to prosperity.
By Jacob Onyango