Kenya’s tourism sector: a shot in the arm.. and one in the foot!

As tourism gets a long needed reprieve, 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 the Westgate terror attacks. It has been detrimental to Kenya’s travel and hospitality industry, as Britain has always been a key source of tourists in Kenya.

While Kenya’s economy remained resilient to the effect of Westgate and other terror attacks, the tourism industry fared worse. Since 2013, the drop in arrivals has been roughly 30%.

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. Kenya, with its tech-savvy government, obviously clearly didn’t want to lag behind.

As a modern country, it only makes sense for Kenya to introduce this as an option. A fast-track Immigration lane at the airports, possibly even with fully automated processing for e-visas would be a great idea!

No more visa on arrival

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.

Until now, people from most countries could travel to Kenya at will, and get a border visa for USD 50/EUR 40/GBP 30. From July 2nd, visitors will 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. Gone is the convenience of just jumping on a plane and going Kenya on a whim.

With a no-visa-no-entry policy, Kenya is suddenly joining the same league as DRC, Angola and Nigeria. None of those are known for their vibrant tourism sectors.

As tourists generally prefer destinations with 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 is and has always been a key feature of how Kenya is run. Hence, I can bet you that this mistake will be undone as soon as the effects become apparent. Hopefully even sooner.

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