The government’s investment in roads and railways across the country is paying dividends by opening up rural counties for domestic tourism.Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala termed the transport infrastructural network as a magic bullet that is stimulating domestic tourism.
He said domestic tourists have become the backbone of the tourism sector in the wake of the devastating coronavirus pandemic.The Cabinet Secretary was speaking on Saturday during the opening of the rebranded Taita Hills and Salt Lick Hotel and Lodges in Mwatate.While admitting that the tourism sector had taken a significant hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, Balala noted that thousands of domestic tourists have offered the much-needed support by visiting parks, travelling and patronizing hospitality establishments.“It is through the construction of roads and railway lines that we are now having Kenyans travelling and reaching destinations they could not earlier go to,” he said.
He further said that to encourage more people to visit Tsavo National Park and other attractions in the Coast region, the government would launch an additional Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train to serve domestic tourists.Other officials who accompanied the CS included Tourism PS Sabina Kwekwe, Pollman’s Group Director of Operations Mohammed Hersi, officials from Kenya Tourism Board and security personnel from the county.
The launching of the rebranded Taita Hills and Salt Lick Safari Lodges comes months after Sarova Group of Hotels stopped managing the two iconic facilities that are located within the expansive 28,000-acre sanctuary.The CS stated that the government was committed to cushioning the tourism sector from the worst of Covid-19 pandemic and cited the opening of the two hotels as a testimony of the industry’s resilience.To support the sector, the government through Tourism Finance Corporation, he said, is in the final stages of finalizing financing agreements with hotels to give funds for refurbishment of buildings as part of an initiative to revive the sector.
Other interventions include allocation of Ksh1billion to support the 160 conservancies across the country.The CS disclosed that already, the government had disbursed Ksh1 billion for payment of salaries for 3,600 community rangers from September 2020 to September 2022.“We have already started paying the salaries for the two years as part of our commitment to support conservation,” he said.The CS ruled out further lowering of park-entry fee stating that any reduction of the monies would cripple the operations of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Kenya, the government had cut the park entry fee by 50 percent as part of incentive to encourage Kenyans to visit the national park and game reserves.