Come midnight tonight, July 2, 2015, major changes in Kenya’s visa policy will come into place. Unlike in the past when many nationalities were able to get their visa on arrival in Nairobi or Mombasa, intending visitors will now have to apply for an e-Visa in advance, with processing days taking as much as a week. Upon vehement intervention from tourism stakeholders, a grace period has been extended but only for two months, during which time tourists and business travelers arriving at one of the two international airports can still get their visa on arrival, but effective September 1, this dual modus operandum will be scrapped and only the e-Visa process will be available.
The new method was only announced a short while ago and has caught many travelers and in particular tour operators and travel agencies abroad unaware. Many destinations brochures will now need re-printing as in most are European visitors told they can get their Visa on arrival at a cost of US Dollars 50, payable in cash. No more under the new rules when the payment must be made by credit or debit card.
It was not possible in the short period of time available to ascertain if the common East African tourist Visa, which presently allows entry into the three CoW countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya at a reduced cost of just 100 US Dollars, must now also be purchased in advance via e-Channels, as no such information was included in the regulations and guidelines published by the Kenyan immigration department.
Tourism stakeholders have sharply condemned the move, saying the week long processing period is excessive and prevents tourists taking a last minute decision to come to Kenya.
Last minute bookings, often at a significant rebate, are popular in Europe with passengers at times just turning up at the airport and in a game of potluck choosing from posters hang up by airlines or touroperators where to fly to, paying there and then and checking in for their flight.
Either did Kenyan officials not think of this segment of travelers, or perhaps rather not know about it and with the new rules basically sending out the message that last minute travelers are no longer welcome in Kenya will inevitably business be lost to more user friendly destinations for last minute bookers.
One source from Nairobi close to this ‘action’ admitted that this was aimed to keep undesirables out of Kenya, in particular to stem the potential rise in arrivals of radicals from the UK, who may wish to join terrorist organisations similar to what many have done with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
‘You must understand that the threat level from that side has gone up and up. We need those days to vet applicants and compare data base information with some of our western partners. This way we hope to catch those with links to radical groups and can deny them entry. Right now they just come, pay their Visa fee and melt away. One British was killed a few weeks ago when together with Al Shabab operatives trying to attack our barracks in Lamu. Therefore, we had to act and close that open door which existed and which we believe was used by radicals to infiltrate us. Now that you say it will keep a lot of real tourists out of Kenya, this will have to be investigated. We have to see if the process can be made faster. Anyway, people who have been here as tourists before and now arrive under new rules will be captured in our data base and when they come back in the future, their application could be as fast as a day’.
Considering that the country is still reeling from the yoke of the only recently lifted harsh anti travel advisories, it is clear that there is now a raging argument between tourism operators to let tourists in as it has been while security services will argue that even with the risk of one radical slipping through the net that one is one too many.
When Burundi a few months ago, equally at short notice, also demanded Visa in advance instead of granting them on arrival, visitor numbers into Bujumbura all but collapsed, leaving an already struggling tourism industry reeling from the fallout and being pushed to the wall due to lack of tourism numbers and revenues.
Seriously speaking though, tourism stakeholders are now urged to communicate these changes to their agents and operators abroad to avoid situation where paid up travelers will be denied boarding for their flight to Kenya, still thinking they get their Visa on arrival and yet, come September, will those doors be closed for good.