As the tourism sector gets a long needed reprieve, the new e-visa rules snap defeat from the jaws of victory!
On June 18th, the British government finally eased the travel advisory on most of the Coast region in Kenya. The advisory had been in place since right after the Westgate terror attacks, and had been severely detrimental to Kenya’s travel and hospitality industry, as Britain has always been a key source of tourists in Kenya.
While Kenya’s economy as a whole remained largely resilient to the effect of Westgate and other terror attacks, the tourism industry fared worse, with a drop of roughly 30% in arrivals since 2013.
With the easing of the travel advisors, the tourism industry was finally getting a long-needed shot in the arm. Hotels in Mombasa were already reporting about an increase in the number of enquiries.
Then came the new visa rules.
Effective July 2nd, Kenya is now introducing e-visas that can be applied for online through the eCitizen portal. An increasing number of countries have introduced similar visa services, and Kenya, with its technology-savvy government, obviously wasn’t going to lag behind.
As a modern country, it only makes sense for Kenya to introduce this as an option, and add a fast-track Immigration lane at the airports, possibly even with fully automated processing for those who had purchased the visa online.
Alas, with the new e-visas, Kenya also opted to remove the on-arrival visa option, and introduce a strict no-visa-no-entry policy.
Where people from most countries could previously decide to travel to Kenya at will and obtain a border visa for USD 50/EUR 40/GBP 30, all travelers will now be required to apply in advance, with a processing time of up to a week.
In other words, popular last-minute deals are no longer an option when traveling to Kenya, and gone is the convenience of being able to just jump on a plane and go Kenya at will.
With a no-visa-no-entry policy, Kenya is suddenly joining the same league as DRC, Angola and Nigeria, none of whom are known for their vibrant tourism sectors.
As tourists tend to choose in favour of destinations that that offer either on-arrival visas, or visa-free entry, Kenyan hotels will inevitably suffer once again.
This well-conceived, but not-so-well-implemented idea has all the hallmarks of something coming from a senior security advisor whose responsibilities have little to do with tourism KPIs.
Pragmatism being, and having always been a key feature of how Kenya is run, though, I am willing to bet you that this system will be changed in no time as soon as the effects become apparent. Maybe even sooner.