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Hard Thinking Needed to Boost Domestic Tourism in Kenya after visitors flock out

It should be peak season now, but hotels, beaches and lodges are scantily occupied while visits to parks even less and less.

The violent protests in parts of the country following disagreement over the presidential results have taken a toll on Kenya’s tourism.

Foreign tourists took off for fear of their safety, leaving hotel owners and tour operators in a daze.

Insider information is that the industry, which has consistently been the country’s top earner for several years, is operating at a meagre four percent.

That spells doom, not only for the industry, but also the country. And Uganda’s tourism is not fairing much better.

A disturbed Anastanzia Wakesho, the chairperson of the new Domestic Tourism Council of Kenya, has been doing some extra thinking over how domestic travel could be promoted to fill a significant portion of the emerging void once the tense subsides and explore ways on how the sector could be uplifted to ensure that the country does not rely only on the fragile international arm of tourism.

The 27-member council has an ambitious strategic plan through which it hopes to raise the level of domestic tourism to a position that will ultimately equal contribution from the foreign visitor.

In 2006, the Kenya Tourist Board noted a significant contribution of domestic travel to the sector. Out of about Sh60 billion revenue generated by tourism in 2006, Sh18 billion arose from the domestic market.

This shows a big contribution from the sub-sector previously taken for granted. The council is poised to help harness that market.

Apart from far-reaching campaigns to interest more citizens in local travel, the council is intent on supporting home-grown investments in the sector and will pay particular attention to community-based tourism initiatives that are likely to be more attractive to Kenyans with regard to cost.

These have been generally lacking, and it is only recently that a few investments of that nature started sprouting.

Ms Wakesho, a tour operator with more than 20 years experience, asks the Government to kick-start local tourism by ensuring that local tourist travel is cheaper.

She says the Government should reduce taxes in the tourism industry.

Currently, she says, about 28 percent of expenses related to the industry go to the Government. She believes that can be comfortably reduced to promote holidaying.

The status quo cannot be maintained if more Kenyans are to be expected to travel to tourist sites within the country, leave alone also trying to woo back the international tourist.

“For hotels to reduce their charges even further to affordable levels for more Kenyans, the Government must first reduce taxes,” she challenges.

A number of holidaying spots especially those in the coastal region has initiated schemes aimed at tax reduction.

They have teamed up with airlines and are putting together fresh packages with reduced charges, some slashing their prices by as much as 10 percent

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