40th Africa Travel Association World Congress

Remarks at the 40th Africa Travel Association World Congress

by Deputy Chief of Mission Paul R. Sutphin

Cabinet Secretary Honorable Phyllis Kandie, Dr. Anne Kinyua, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be with you today at the Africa Travel Association’s 40th Annual World Congress and to help welcome many of you from around the world to Kenya. Karibu Kenya – it’s an astonishingly beautiful place whose natural beauty is matched by the warmth of the welcome visitors receive.

When the average American thinks of Africa, the image is almost always that of exotic wildlife, savannah grasslands, green forests, and a wide variety of cultures. Kenya has all these, and more, with its varied landscapes, remarkable animals and rich and diverse cultural heritage. American travelers, by and large, come for this natural Kenya – and leave charmed by the Kenyan people.

Let me share some relevant statistics with you.

Travel and tourism contributed seven billion dollars to Kenya’s GDP in 2014. In fact, the total economic impact of travel and tourism is larger than that of the automotive, mining, chemicals manufacturing and banking sectors.

Based on its direct, indirect, and induced GDP impact, travel and tourism generated over twelve percent of Kenya’s GDP in 2014.

In terms of employment, travel and tourism generated, either directly or indirectly, 9.2 percent of official employment in Kenya in 2014 – and probably significantly more if you consider tourism-related informal sector employment. The job creation effect from tourism and spending by tourists is tough to quantify. The best estimate we’ve seen is that for every job directly in the travel and tourism sector, nearly three additional jobs are created on an indirect or induced basis.

Despite Kenya’s abundant natural riches and famous hospitality, security concerns over terrorism and crime, as well as scares last year over Ebola, seriously disrupted the tourism sector here – even though the Ebola outbreak was on the other side of this enormous continent.

But Kenya can, and I think will, bounce back – and on a personal note, at least if my extended family – who all want to visit – has anything to do with it. Why am I optimistic? Looking at Americans only, despite the challenges of the last two years, the number of tourists arriving in Kenya from the United States (137,000 last year) is second only to the number visiting from the United Kingdom.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport remains a key hub for regional travel with direct flights links to tourism destinations throughout the region.

The number of tourists arriving from the United States could, however, be significantly increased by direct air service between the U.S. and Kenya. Many of you know that direct flights were discussed by Presidents Obama and Kenyatta during President Obama’s visit in July, and are a goal we are working toward.

The benefits are very clear: direct flights would encourage greater business and tourist travel and increase mutual trade access, including, for example, exports to the U.S. of high-value Kenyan perishable horticultural products.

We are working to make direct flights happen. The U.S. is providing technical assistance and training to help Kenya meet international aviation safety and security standards, and to ensure sustainable regulatory systems based on those standards and best practices. I am happy to report that we are making real progress; the US is committed to providing significant assistance to achieve this goal, and looks to Kenya to continue and accelerate efforts as well.

Another topic key issue with regard to travel between the United States and Kenya is visas.

Good news here. During President Obama’s visit, one of the commitments announced was to extend visitor visa validity for Americans traveling to Kenya, and Kenyans traveling to the United States, from one year to five years, with the goal of promoting bilateral tourism and trade. I am pleased to tell you that this commitment has been fulfilled – the change went onto effect September 22. Kenyans travelers to the U.S. are now eligible to receive a visa valid for multiple entries over five years, as are Americans who apply for Kenyan visas on line.

U.S. and Kenyan citizens who regularly travel back and forth between the two countries will benefit by not having to apply, and not having to pay the application fee, every 12 months. And businesses in both countries, especially in the tourism industry, are benefitting from increased ease of travel.

Extended visa validity and the prospect of direct flights are not the only reasons to be optimistic. Due to improvements in the security situation, the U.S. Embassy recently lifted restrictions on travel by Embassy personnel to much of the coast, from the town of Malindi south to the border with Tanzania. While terrorism and criminal threats remain throughout Kenya, the specific concerns that led to the restriction being put in place in 2014 have changed significantly, and changed as a result of positive actions by the government of Kenya.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the harmful impact that corruption has on tourism. As many Kenyans have told me, corruption is the single greatest obstacle to economic growth and development in this country of such rich talent and resources. Corruption has cost Kenyans many thousands of jobs and deterred international investors. All Kenyans must make fighting corruption a continuing top priority. The Joint Commitment on Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, issued by Presidents Kenyatta and Obama during President Obama’s visit, is a key framework for progress. We are working closely with the government and others to take action on these commitments.

Tourism remains a key indicator of the general investor confidence in the Kenyan economy, and as I’ve noted, I continue to be optimistic about Kenya. We all want to see Kenya flourish and prosper. We want to see a Kenya that remains a prime destination for businesses, organizations, and tourists- that’s why we are all here, working to make this happen. We welcome the opportunities that Kenyan tourism presents U.S. tour operators, travel agents, and other businesses. When tourism thrives, it’s very clear — everybody wins.

In closing, I congratulate the Africa Travel Association on your 40th Congress and hope that it will be productive for your members and for our Kenyan hosts. Additionally, I hope that this remarkable gathering of tourism innovation and talent, in this remarkable country, will act as a catalyst for fruitful new partnerships and ideas. From a national perspective, I am more than optimistic – I know that working together, we can deepen and broaden the benefits that tourism can offer to both Kenyans and Americans. We wish all of you good fortune and success in Kenya. THANK YOU, ASANTE SANA.