Ele on the Runway!

Ele on the Runway!

There’s an elephant on the Jomo Kenyatta runway, and everybody thinks it’s a peacock! Cool it. Wait for the real figures, will ya?

Yesterday’s blogosphere was alive with premature (I prefer, preternatural) celebration. The Kenya Tourist Board said preliminary figures show it headed to the “best year ever” in tourism.

Say, again.

Half of Keekorok Lodge closed in the high season?
&Beyond specials for Kichwa falling out of the sky like rain?
Reserve fees increasing 50% to cover last year’s costs?
Slow rebuilding of all the lodges and camps in Samburu?

The Tanzania Tourist Board just announced this week that it would fall short – far short, 25% short – of its projected 2010 figures for tourism.

What bloggers are miscalculating are visitor arrivals and airline statistics and translating them into tourist arrivals.

Airlines are adding service into Nairobi at around 9%, according to IATA. Visitor numbers are up, even in Tanzania. But airlines and visitors aren’t necessarily tourists.

What’s happening is that gold, oil and oil products, cut flowers, potash to India, and minerals like coltran are up and up. The planes that are headed to Kenya take passengers, but mostly cargo.

Only one other region in the world had a greater increase in airline traffic than Africa: the Middle East.

Guess what, that wasn’t because of tourism, either. It was because of oil and war.

Now gold, oil and oil products, cut flowers, potash to India and minerals like coltran also need salesmen, managers, financial wizards and battalions of consultants. Kenya’s incredible exercise to create a new constitution drew literally thousands of outsiders.

Hillary hasn’t been on safari since she took over Ngorongoro’s Serena Lodge in the 1990s.

But tourism will benefit from all of this. There will be more ways, and likely cheaper ways, to get to safari if airline traffic continues to increase into Nairobi.

(Frankly, I don’t know how on earth Nairobi’s airport can handle any more planes. It’s supposed to be rebuilt, but that’s over 5 years, and right now I worry more that I’m going to crash entering and leaving the gate area, it’s so congested with aircraft.)

Obviously, I would like tourism to increase, and I think we’re on a slow and arduous path to seeing it happen.

But this time around, it’s the Tanzanians, not the Kenyans, who have the right figures. And it’s no peacock under that arriving A380!