By Njeri Kimani, firstname.lastname@example.org
NAIROBI – In a unique challenge, Tourism Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala is slated to hike Mount Kenya in a bid to promote mountaineering tourism.
On Monday, Balala left for Mount Kenya from Nairobi to join a team of environmentalists, journalists and mountaineers in a five-day climb. The hike is part of the ‘Seven Summits Africa’ tourism promotion campaign. Mount Kenya is Africa’s second highest summit.
The challenge will set a World First by climbing seven African Mountain Summits within seven weeks. An excited Balala said the initiative was meant to ensure that the mountain, which he dubbed as a new asset, was not underutilized and under promoted again.
“I am excited. Mount Kenya has the most scenic view and diverse animals” he added.
The climb comes when the statistics of the number of tourists in the country is declining at a high rate. Tourist numbers have declined falling amid worries of political volatility in the wake of Kenya’s extended presidential polls.
Between April and August 8 this year, tourism numbers had risen to 300,000 arrivals, 65000 more tourists as compared to last year.
The country received 245,000 arrivals in 2016 the early wildebeest migration, but the number has since plunged
Balala cited that political heat has taken a major toll on hotels and wildlife sanctuaries with tourists adopting a wait and see attitude. The economic impact was felt in all sectors; with Charter planes to the coast are now running almost empty.
He said that most of the Wildlife sanctuaries in Laikipia were recording zero guest arrivals, citing that it would be hard for the sector to recover from the effects of the political turmoil even in the next year.
Balala is also the current chair of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Commission for Africa.
Kenya’s tourism industry almost collapsed in 2015 with a sharp fall in tourist arrivals after a series of terror attacks in Nairobi and the Kenyan coast, with many countries issuing travel advisories. The decline saw Balala engage in a marketing and diversification plan in bid to boost domestic and international tourism.
Kenyans welcomed the initiative, citing that it would help build confidence that the country was safe.
“By him hiking, he is sending a message to the world that if such a senior official can be safe in such a serene environment, then the country is at peace. It’s important that he is promoting the sector from the front and not just board room meetings, “said Amos Njoroge, a tour guide.
Henry Omondi , a marketing manager, claimed that the electioneering period had cost Kenya a lot economic wise.
“Any initiative that will seek to boost the country economically is welcomed. Otherwise, we will continue to lag behind as we try to heal from the political tension that the country experienced. It’s important to note that for the last two years no serious business has been taking place here. Even NGOs pulled out many of their initiatives,” he added.
Priscilla Kinyanjui, a human right activist however wants to understand how much the Ministry would spend in the exercise.
“Previously, such good looking and sugar coated initiatives have ended up costing our country millions of shillings. Actually they are just avenues for government to fleece taxpayers,” she added.