Kenya’s tourism industry diversifies to thrive

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The State House Tourism Summit provided an opportunity to review the sector and give an update on how it is currently doing. It also showed the way forward with new, innovative considerations presented.

Tourism is susceptible to any adverse occurrences in other sectors of our economy and in recent years, challenges have also arisen from insecurity and terrorist attacks, which led to travel advisories being issued by countries that traditionally make up a large percentage of Kenya’s source markets for tourism. This has resulted in reduced visitor numbers and hospitality revenues.

While the short-term forecast is cause for concern, given the role tourism plays in generation of revenue, foreign exchange and employment for Kenya’s economy, the medium-term and long-term outlook is looking up and encouraging.

These challenges have also spurred tourism operators to explore new revenue streams, including business or conference tourism and domestic tourism.

While the increase in air-passenger numbers can be partly accounted for by demand within the leisure market, it also speaks to the growing potential of business tourism in Kenya.

According to a recent survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), the tourism sector’s growth is forecast to show an average compound annual growth of 4.7 percent towards the end of 2016. However, the business and hospitality industry is helping to compensate for the shortfall in leisure tourists by providing Kenya with business customers. Corporate travel has been booming. Since the Third Quarter of 2014, it has been pretty stable and reliable with major conferences taking place in Kenya.

In addition, Kenyan tourism operators are diversifying and expanding their source markets in order to grow the sector. The key markets thus far have been UK and US, but there is a lot of interest in Latin American, African and Asian markets.

Our national carrier Kenya Airways has already begun taking steps to boost its links with Asia by increasing flights to China. In November 2013, the airline introduced non-stop flights to Guangzhou and in 2014 launched additional one-stop service to Beijing and Shanghai, via Bangkok.

Overall, in 2014 around 120,000 passengers flew between China and Kenya, a figure expected to increase by approximately 15 percent per year.

To boost tourist numbers at the coast, the Government has granted some international airlines rights to operate scheduled flights to Moi International Airport in Mombasa. A beneficiary of this is the United Arab Emirates low-cost carrier, flydubai. As more international airlines are licensed, it can only help tourism recover its former glory.

The Ministry of Tourism is in the process of developing the Tourism Strategy 2030, the blueprint which is premised on three pillars – Product Development and Diversification, Marketing, and Capacity Building, Training and Service.

The Counties are responsible for Local Tourism and Product Development. It is, therefore important that enough resources are allocated for ensuring that Tourism products are adequately developed and packaged for domestic and international tourists’ consumption.

Each of the 47 Kenyan counties has inspiringly shown growth in the domestic product by providing a different brand. Each county is now showcasing its own unique products, hence offering visitors a huge range of products to sample. The ministry is offering technical assistance to the counties, through its Department of Tourism and relevant parastatals.

In terms of diversification, we are committed to opening up access to new tourist circuits and products. This means moving away from the traditional beach and safari products to culture and heritage, and sports tourism, amongst other niche products and thereby providing consumers with more choice.

The Ministry, through the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), is mandated to create and communicate appealing destination images and messages to prospective visitors, mainly through advertising and Public Relations.

Where counties are largely unknown in the markets, we take the lead role in promoting their destinations’ products. Counties are responsible for local tourism and should consider allocating sufficient budgets for marketing in their localities to promote domestic tourism.

In addition, we require skilled workforce in the tourism and hospitality sector to ensure we provide quality service to our visitors. This is incumbent on the Ministry, through its State Agency – Kenya Utalii College (KUC), which is renowned as a regional centre of excellence, to train and equip the workforce.

Furthermore, the Ministry, through the Tourism Regulatory Authority (TRA), defines the quality and standards of tourism products and services in consultation with tourism stakeholders.

These include minimum levels of facilities to be provided in accommodation, among others. The ongoing classification of Hotels and Restaurants by TRA is geared towards ensuring we offer globally competitive services and products. This will enable us attract more visitors and have repeat visits.

With the combined efforts of all tourism players, the future of the tourism sector looks bright and we hope to achieve our targeted numbers in tourists and revenue.

We are also happy that Kenya’s tourism has received a boost from none other than the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, who has endorsed the country as a safe destination.

(Fatuma Hirsi Mohammed is the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Tourism)

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