Alfred Mutua, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, has made a strong accusation against the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials, claiming that they are responsible for the reported harassment of tourists visiting the country at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
Mutua expressed his concerns during a stakeholder meeting at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), where he highlighted the adverse effects of this alleged harassment on Kenya's tourism industry.
Mutua highlighted the impact of reported harassment on Kenya's status as a premier tourist destination in Africa.
He questioned the rationale behind subjecting tourists to such treatment, emphasizing that it jeopardizes Kenya's reputation and position in the tourism market.
"Why are they harassing our visitors here? They will never come back to Kenya, and we wonder why we dropped to number four. Why are people not coming to Kenya?" Mutua expressed, addressing the concerning trend of dwindling tourist numbers due to these practices.
He questioned the inconsistency of such treatment, emphasizing that other African nations also collect taxes from tourists but do not subject them to the same alleged harassment.
"We harass our visitors when they come to this country and then we wonder why they don't come back. You go to Rwanda they don't harass you, kwani Rwanda don't collect taxes? You go to South Africa they don't collect taxes?" Mutua stated.
Mutua went further to underline his commitment to addressing this issue as the Minister of Tourism, with the goal of making Kenya a more welcoming destination.
"We have to present the right optics; people have to get that warm feeling. You go to Singapore today; nobody harasses you. You go to the Seychelles, the Maldives; nobody opens your bag because you are a tourist. Those are some of the things that we have to correct, and now you have the right leader to correct it," Mutua remarked.
Despite his criticism, Mutua acknowledged that KRA staff are not entirely to blame for these actions, suggesting that they have developed certain undesirable habits.
However, he maintained that if Kenya aims to generate revenue from tourism, the immediate cessation of visitor harassment is essential.
"We'll ask them either you tell us to close down the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and focus on other things. But if you want us to collect money and get this country to be rich, then stop harassing our product. And the KRA staff are not bad, they have bad manners," Mutua concluded.
Mutua's remarks come against the background of KRA's recent controversial declaration that travellers coming into the country would be subjected to paying taxes for their personal goods at points of entry once their value exceeds items worth USD500 (approx. Sh75,000).
This declaration was met with harsh criticism from Kenyans who felt it was outrageous as it was exorbitant and would force many people to abandon their items at the customs for lack of money to pay for their taxes.