The state of Kenya’s domestic tourism

January 18, 2016
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There’s somewhere for everyone in Kenya/FILE
There’s somewhere for everyone in Kenya/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – The last two years have seen the #TembeaKenya and #MagicalKenya hashtags rock social media frequently.

Initiated by the Kenya Tourism Board, the hashtags were started to encourage Kenyans to tour the country’s famous destinations. And they seem to work. Weekends especially have seen the hashtags trend meaning that Kenyans are touring Kenya.

But are they going to Kenya’s award winning destinations such as The Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, Amboseli and Tsavo?

“Kenya’s famous tour destinations are not for the locals. They are for foreigners,” Mohamed Ahmed, a Nairobi resident says when asked.

“The best I can do is to take my family to Uhuru Park or other free parks around Nairobi. I’d love to go tour the Maasai Mara, but I cannot afford to go there with my family as it is very expensive to go there,” Ahmed adds.

Logistically, one needs to fly there or drive there as there no public means into the Maasai Mara wilds. Alternatively, one would need to contact tour companies to get there.

Event companies such as Bonfire Adventures have listed how much it will cost to get someone like Ahmed to The Mara ahead of Valentine’s Day next month. To get accommodation at the Mara Simba Oryx Lodge, a three star hotel, Ahmed would need to part with Sh11,999 per day. Should he need to take his wife, he would need to double the price.

If he chooses to upgrade to a five star hotel like Maasai Serena Game Lodge, he would part with Sh14,999 for two days or Sh25,500 for three days per person.

“Basing on where I am in life, that is too much money which I would not be able to afford,” Ahmed says.

His sentiments are shared by Kevin Kamau who says that it being a January, with a family to feed and school fees to take care of, there would be no going to Maasai Mara or elsewhere.

“I’m lucky to have a wife who is happy with what I can afford. Sure, I’d love to go to places like Samburu Conservancy, Tsavo and Amboseli. While there I’d probably want to sleep in hotels like Sarova Shaba Game in Samburu or Amboseli Oltukai Lodge, but that is too far out of my reach,” he says.

“The trouble with destinations such as Lake Naivasha, Mount Kenya and the Maasai Mara is that the accommodation facilities built around these places are too far out of our reach. So you get that these places are within our boarders but they are not affordable,” he continues.

Does that mean that hotels in key destinations in the country are out of reach for everyone?

No. In fact, some people are putting in a lot of effort to go there.

“I have toured several destinations in the country. It started when I first married and went for honeymoon in Vipingo Ridge in Kilifi. I even got to enjoy the beaches there. Afterwards, I’ve toured with her to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays in places such as Rusinga Island, Lake Victoria and Watamu,” James Wafula, who hails from Western Kenya but lives in Nairobi, says.

Honeymoon and weddings are therefore some of the biggest reasons why Kenyans choose to tour high end hotels and enjoy the destinations close by.

There’s somewhere for everyone in Kenya

All hope is however not lost for those hoping to tour The Mara, Samburu or Amboseli. One can team up with like-minded friends, hire a vehicle and track down camping sites in those destinations that are usually cheaper.

Naivasha, for instance, has in the past five years become Kenya’s next best destination. Camps such as Fisherman Camp and Cray Fish Camp have become some of the area’s biggest destinations.

Mary Munyao thinks so too and has nothing but praise for Naivasha’s variety of activities and accommodation places; “Naivasha is my favourite destination in the country. It gives you truly beautiful destinations and plenty of activities to do – think hiking at Hell’s Gate and Mount Longonot – and I can afford it without necessarily straining my pockets.”

Naivasha however is not the only place that is opening up for domestic tourism. Counties such as Murang’a and Laikipia are enjoying the budding domestic tourism. Rapids Camp, Sagana in Murang’a County has for instance made a name for itself, while more Kenyans are heading to Nanyuki in Laikipia County to climb Mount Kenya.

Mombasa however still carries its flag high with the presence of award winning beaches, a rich culture and the history attached to it.

“I travelled to Wogect Hotel, a three star hotel, in December with daughter. Mombasa never gets old; there is always something to do there. The beaches are especially exciting,” says Njeri Mwangi.

Government Efforts

The sentiments come at the back of the government’s efforts to get more people to tour Kenya following mass departure from key destinations, especially the Coast, by foreigners after travel advisories were slapped on the country because of security issues.

Hence marketing initiatives such as Tembea Kenya were launched to get more Kenyans to tour the beaches after they were left almost empty with some resorts and hotels attempting to close shop.

Just recently, the Ministry of Tourism announced the launch of a Sh30million SMS campaign in a bid to woo domestic travellers. In the campaign, couples and individuals stand to win prizes which include two nights and three days to various attractions.

“There will be a grand prize for two people for five nights with a flying package either to Maasai Mara or Samburu,” Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said during the launch.

A billion Dollar industry

Amidst the discussion of cost per destination and accommodation, a billion dollar industry has been built around Kenya’s beauty. It is so big that Billionaires like Sir Richard Branson have started their own establishments in the country – he owns Mahali Mzuri in Maasai Mara, a luxury safari camp.

Hotels such the Heritage Group of hotels have created big businesses that depend on tourism solely.

Would the government and businesses investing in tourism therefore consider then, investing in setting up affordable facilities to accommodate ordinary Kenyans? Or is that not a point in focus seeing that the industry is the country’s second largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture?

Also, would luxury hotels be willing to lower their prices, especially during low seasons, to encourage more Kenyans to visit the hotels?

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