Players call for fair distribution of tourism funds

Thursday, June 18th, 2020 00:00 |
Western Region Hoteliers Chairman William Owuya, Western Kenya Hospitality leaders Association Chairman Robinson Anyal and Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Kisumu branch) chairman Israel Agina address the media on this years Budget allocations in Kisumu town on Monday.

Harriet James and Noven Owiti 

Stakeholders in the tourism industry have urged for fairness and transparency in the distribution of  Sh3 billion stimulus funds earmarked for the sector. 

The industry stakeholders expressed fears that certain regions are likely to get the upper hand in access to the hospitality funds set aside by the National Treasury for hotels renovation and post Covid-19 marketing. 

Led by Western Kenya Hospitality Leaders’ Association chairman Robinson Anyal, they have called for equitable distribution of funds to cushion the sector from the pandemic.

Anyal said such funding should help catalyse recovery of hotels business in Western region too, noting that the facilities were not doing well before the coronavirus outbreak to be able to restart business.

“We had just come from the lowest season of January and February when the pandemic hit, so we need financial support to stay afloat,” he said.

Overall, Treasury has set aside Sh11.3 billion for the tourism sector in a move to enable the industry bounce back from the effects of the pandemic. 

Treasury Cabinet secretary Ukur Yatani said approximately Sh2 billion of the monies will be shared in community reserves to jump-start the tourism sector as well as safeguard its players from heavy financial losses.

“The government will also provide grants to 160 communities and support to Kenya wildlife services to engage 5,500 community scouts for a period of one year, to support I propose to set aside Sh2 billion,” said the CS. 

Another Sh3billion has been set to support the renovation of facilities and the restructuring of business operations by actors in this industry, a move intended to pave way for local meetings and visits within the region. 

“The State will promote aggressive post-Covid-19 tourism marketing and providing support for hotel refurbishment through soft loans to be channeled towards the Tourism Finance Corporation,” Yattani added. 

The cash will also be distributed to the Tourism Promotion Fund and Tourism Fund who will receive Sh2.5 and Sh3.8 billion respectively.

Earlier this year, the government had set aside Sh500 million to market tourism destinations and to ensure that globally, Kenya still remains a preferred destination. 

However, experts feel that more needs to be done to boost the industry. “The Sh3.8 billion allocated to Tourism fund to help tourism recover is a drop in the ocean for the entire tourism sector,” says John Musau, General Manager, Tamarind Tree Hotel and a Tourism sector expert. 

“Tourism employs more than 3.5 million people and 70 per cent of these have already lost their jobs when hotels, airlines and tour companies closed due to effects of Covid-19,” he urges. 

Landing fees

The government has also waived landing and parking fees at the airports in order to facilitate movement in and out of Kenya.

While many in the aviation sector have applauded this move, some feel that more needs to be done to boost aviation.

“The good thing about the budget is waiver of airport parking fees which will translate to cheaper air fares, thus allowing us to be competitive regionally as a destination,” says Musau.  

However, Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO) officials say reintroduction of taxes and duties will place obstacles on recovery efforts for a sector whose performance has been grounded by the pandemic. 

All passenger carriers have been grounded and hotels closed, sending staff home on unpaid leave.

“We expected to see a stimulus package especially dedicated to the national aviation sector recovery,” he says Col  (Rtd) E K Waithaka, Executive secretary KAAO. 

The lifting of the ban on government meetings in hotels is another plus to the sector.

“The government holds many meetings and if these can be hosted in hotels, it means revenue for the hotels as international tourism will take long to come by,” says Musau.  

 “The Sh2.5 billion for tourism promotion, if used well can help market the country both locally and internationally.

However, this fund should be accessible to all players who promote tourism and not just KTB,” says Musau.  

Meanwhile, the Western Kenya Hospitality Leaders’ Association is suspicious of the sharing out of the budget allocations. 

The group is currently gathering data on revenue lost for the last three months and wage bill for hotel staff, which will be presented to the Tourism ministry for consideration. 

According to Anyal, the hotel industry has multiplier effects as it drives other sectors of the economy such as agriculture, hence the need for support to rejuvenate the sector to be up and running after experiencing hard times.

“We want proper criteria used in sharing out the money allocated to stimulate the hospitality,” he told the  press in Kisumu.

Western region hoteliers chairman William Owuya also appealed for consideration of the region in the distribution of the money. Tourism in the region is still young which calls for its nurturing to compete with other established circuits,” he said.

Billions lost 

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Kisumu county branch Chairman Israel Agina called for additional funding to help revitalise the hospitality sector, saying the initial allocation was not enough to cater for what the sector needed to stabilise from Covid-19 adverse effects.

Agina noted that many businesses that directly depend on hotels have been affected by the prolonged closure of the facilities. “The sector is a major employer in the region supports several livelihoods,” said Agina.

Last year, tourism sector earnings rose four per cent to Sh163 billion compared to the Sh157. 4 billion earned in 2018.

However this year, as a result of travel restrictions, industry players are projecting losses worth billions of shillings. 

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