The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers hosted a gubernatorial forum in Mombasa on Wednesday, to allow its members to ask questions of the candidates running for office. Because tourism is the coast’s major industry, political candidates want to talk to its management, investors, and workers.
Kenya is abuzz with pre-election activity, now less than two weeks away from the March 4 polling date. And at the Kenyan Coast, where tourism thrives, its stakeholders want to hear how Mombasa county gubernatorial candidates will support their businesses and organizations.
As the executive director for the coast of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, Sam Ikwaye said that the high value of coastal tourism ensures that politicians pay attention.
“Tourism is the cash crop: it is the biggest industry at the coast today, with a very big multiplier effect," he said. "We estimate that one employee is supporting at least a household of ten. So you’re looking at a wife and two or three children, and a landlord, and a taxi driver, and everybody.
"So the totality of the economy in this region relies on tourism. Even agriculture, which is very key due to the food production, highly depends on tourism," Ikwaye added. "And that is why when you have low season in this particular region, you realize that many other sectors actually suffer. So tourism is the core and backbone - a very important sector.”
Paul Kurgat works with the Ashnil hotels at the coast. As one of the roughly 50 attendees at the debate, he said that politicians must understand the issues facing tourism at the coast. “My reasons for coming into this debate is to interrogate the candidates and get to know which candidate would be best suitable to handle issues bedecking the tourism industry,” he said.
Gubernatorial aspirant and debate participant Tendai Lewa Mtana said his first priority is city planning since residents inherited a decaying infrastructure that has not been updated since independence. “And the infrastructure must be able to facilitate business," Mtana explained.
"So when we’re talking about water, what is evident is that the water that the tourism industry is having to purchase is unacceptable. Water is a basic right in this constitution and for business particularly, they cannot be spending 20% of their costs on water," said Mtana. "So water must be handled.”
Sam Ikwaye of the Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association agreed that infrastructure problems are a big concern, and said he’s most interested in hearing how the government is going to help “because another challenge we’ve suffered as an industry is that the central government has kept on milking the tourism industry. Because it is perceived to be an industry with a lot of money," he said.
"But then, they have not been plying back the development of this industry and therefore, you’ve seen standards going down, infrastructure coming down, the sewage system collapsing, and many other issues, so we really wanted to hear the governors’ manifestos and what their plans are and how they are going to finance this,” Ikwaye added.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Kenya’s GDP is over 13 percent.