The tourism industry has thrown its weight behind President Uhuru Kenyatta’s target of three million tourists annually by 2017.
While opening the 11th Parliament on Tuesday, President Kenyatta said the incoming government intends boost tourist numbers to three million annually.
Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association chairman Mohamed Hersi said the figure was achievable if the thorny issues facing the industry are addressed.
He suggested that the Kenya Tourism Board be adequately funded to market the country as a tourist destination internationally.
Mr Hersi said that Egypt and South Africa attracted 11.5 million and more than eight million international tourists respectively last year compared to Kenya’s 1.23 million visitors because the two countries had well-funded marketing campaigns.
He proposed that the government earmark five or 10 per cent of the revenue generated by the industry (Sh96 billion) last year for marketing.
“Kenya has the potential of attracting more than three million international tourists annually. Our competitors such as Egypt and South Africa are ahead of us because they invest heavily in marketing,” he said.
Mr Hersi also said more holidaymakers would come if Mombasa was cleaned up.
Speaking to the Nation on Wednesday, Mr Hersi asked the government to reduce traffic jams in Nairobi and Mombasa.
“Our cities and towns could attract more tourists if the authorities could rid them of filth,” he said.
“Traffic congestion in Nairobi and Mombasa should be addressed as a matter of urgency as it is costing us potential holidaymakers,” he explained.
Kenya Association of Tour Operators Coast branch chairperson Monika Solanki said the county could achieve the target of three million tourists annually if the government could improve infrastructure.
She noted that although the world famous Maasai Mara attracts huge numbers of wildlife enthusiasts, the section of the road from Narok to Sekenani was in deplorable condition.
Ms Solanki said the Mara had the potential to double the number of tourists visiting the game reserve every year if the road could be repaired.
South Coast could also attract more visitors if the Dongo Kundu bypass project is implemented.
Ms Solanki explained that the number of tourists visiting the South Coast had declined due to transport challenges at the Likoni channel.
“Tourists spend hours before they cross the Likoni channel due to ferry congestion. We cannot blame Kenya Ferry Services as it is overwhelmed by the massive number of ferry users,” she said.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye asked the government to address the problems of harassment of tourists on the beaches to attract more holidaymakers.
He said the menace is among the issues which have affected tourism for years.
“The issue of harassment of tourists on the beaches has been featuring prominently in tourism meetings but a solution is yet to be found,” he said. “At one time we were told that some funds had been set aside for the relocation of beach operators in Mombasa but to date nothing has materialised.”
The official also asked the government to establish an international convention centre in Mombasa to tap into conference tourism, which is under-exploited in the region. Mombasa and other Coastal towns, he added, had the potential to attract more visitors if an international conference centre could be built in the region.