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Kenya must target conference tourism

JOHANNESBURG, SA, Feb 22- Kenya needs to establish an organisation which specifically deals with and coordinates international meetings and exhibitions if the country is to harness the potential that exist in conference tourism.

The Managing Director of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Julie Dabaly Scott, said such a unit would bid for and plan international meetings and conferences to take place in Kenya and eventually enable the country to become a top meetings destination that can compete with other established countries in this niche market.

\’I really think that it is time for us to have a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) division because there are a lot of meetings happening in Kenya and this would help us to collectively bring conferences in Kenya," Mrs Scott told Capital Business in Johannesburg.

Buoyed by increased travel for business, the MICE industry is rapidly growing in many parts of the world and contributing billions of shillings to the global economy.

While acknowledging that this segment of tourism is growing, Mrs argued that having a MICE would help to accelerate growth.

A 2009 report by the International Congress and Convention Association ranked Kenya 60th in the world in conference tourism and fourth in Africa after South Africa, Egypt and Morocco but Mrs Scott believes that the country can do better.

"KTB (Kenya Tourist Board) and KICC (Kenyatta International Conference Centre) need to take a stand on that (starting the meeting and conference division) and I wish they could invite people who have the information on how to go about it," she said on the sidelines of a three-day \’Meetings Africa\’ in South Africa.

The event is used by South Africa as an avenue to market the country and has also provided an opportunity for agents such Carlson Wagonlit Travel to learn more about Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions.

This knowledge, the travel agent said, would come in handy in setting up the unit which in her opinion could be a quasi-organisation that could help promote the country\’s overall tourism sector.

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The importance of such a division is not lost to KICC which has planned a number of initiatives to enhance conference tourism agenda in Kenya and one which at 20 percent of the total tourist\’ arrivals is the fastest growing segment in the sector.

"Conference tourism is not about the building, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, it is a sub-sector in tourism which has a lot of potential. During the low season for example after Easter, we can be able to use that time to tap into this sector of the market,\’ said  KICC Managing Director Beatrice Makawiti.

An 11-member Secretariat formed in June last year by Tourism Minister Najib Balala to spearhead the MICE industry is already working towards this goal and Ms Makawiti believes it will come in handy in their endeavour.

On their part, the MD said they were targeting international association meetings to get a piece of the conference tourism pie.

\’About 8,000 association meetings take place annually. Kenya in 2009 hosted only 19. We want to see that grow so that we can compete with our counterparts such as South Africa who hosted 90 meetings in the same period," she added.

Kenya, she said, has the facilities and the capacity to handle increased number of business tourists who would in turn visit the exciting tourist sites and thus help to grow leisure tourism.

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