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Kenya banks on citizens to lift up tourism sector

14 June 2014, 09:29

Nairobi - Kenya is aggressively turning to its citizens in its quest to revamp the tourism sector that has taken a beating following a rise in terrorist attacks.

The East African nation is encouraging Kenyans to visit the numerous tourist sites in the country as it banks on them to keep the sector afloat.

Several initiatives have been launched to boost domestic tourism, which has been the least contributor of revenue in the industry.

For many years, Kenya has solely relied on tourists from Europe. About 1.5 million tourists visit the country every year, of which over 75 percent are from Europe.

While the figures have been dropping in the past years due to factors including a global financial crisis, acts of terrorism perpetuated by Somali-based terror group Al-Shabaab have worsened the plight of Kenya.

Several Western nations that include Britain, Australia, France and U.S. have issued travel advisories warning their citizens to be cautious if they choose to visit Kenya.

It is on this backdrop that Kenya has turned to its citizens in its quest to boost the tourism sector.

The East African nation has come up with a number of strategies to encourage domestic tourism. Top on the list is tax exemptions to companies that offer their employees holidays.

According to the proposal, companies should offer their employees holidays, which they will then be tax deductible.

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the measure last month as the government targeted at least 25,000 Kenyans each month.

On Thursday, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich put the proposal in the budget by announcing that he would amend the Income Tax Act to permit deduction of expenditure paid by employers for staff vacations.

"The hospitality sector is facing numerous challenges as number of foreign tourists drop. To mitigate against these challenges, I propose to amend the Income Tax Act to allow deduction of expenditure paid by employers of vacations made in Kenya," said Rotich.

With the East African nation targeting 25,000 domestic tourists per month, the move would cost the government at least 28 million U.S. dollars in tax losses.

The Kenya government has also ordered that all its events be held in private hotels as it seeks to drive up the number of people using the facilities.

Other measures include the removal of value added tax on all services provided by travel agents.

Similarly, all the budgetary resources in the national government earmarked for foreign travel have been reallocated to domestic travel.

County governments have also been urged to reallocate all their foreign travels budgets to domestic travels to spur growth of domestic tourism. At least 5,000 people have lost their jobs in the sector hit by terrorism and domestic travel.

However, it is the reduction of national park entry fees that directly targets ordinary Kenyans, majority who have kept off the sites due to high charges. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on Thursday cut the charges by between 1.7 dollars and 2.3 dollars.

"Following the presidential directive on review of park entry fees, Kenya Wildlife Service would like to inform the public that park entry fees to Lake Nakuru and Amboseli national parks have been reduced," said the institution in a notice.

Kenyan adults would now pay 11.4 dollars to visit the popular parks, down from 13.7 dollars while children will pay 2.3 dollars, down from 4 dollars.

On the other hand, foreigners would pay 80 dollars for adults, down from 90 dollars while children would pay 40 dollars, which is a drop of 15 dollars.

On their side, tourism stakeholders are offering Kenyans reduced vacation packages, which are lower than the 61 dollars per person per day they charge international tourists.

Kenya last year received 1.5 million tourists, down from 1.7 million in 2012, according to the Economic Survey 2014.

Consequently, revenue from tourism, which is among the East African nation's top foreign exchange earner, fell from 1.1 billion dollars to 1 billion dollars.

Already, things are not looking rosy for the sector this year. The number of tourists who visited the East African nation in the first quarter through its two main international airports Moi and Jomo Kenyatta dropped to 225,000 from 250,000 last year, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Kenya is now courting China, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa to boost tourist numbers. So, will Kenyans take holidays as encouraged by the government to boost local tourism?

"I can take a holiday and perhaps go to Mombasa or Maasai Mara, but I can only do this once because the costs are high despite the drop of charges. However, not many Kenyans can do that because our incomes are low and most people are struggling to put food on the table," said George Kimani, a monitoring and evaluation specialist in Nairobi.

Kimani said for long-term measures, the government should build the economy to boost incomes so that people can have money to spare for holiday.

- Xinhua


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