Nyaatha Beatification Experience a Lesson for Kenya’s Tourism Ministry

May 24, 2015
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People who had most probably never come to Kenya before spent time and money travelling to our beautiful town to participate in a religious ceremony/file
People who had most probably never come to Kenya before spent time and money travelling to our beautiful town to participate in a religious ceremony/file

, By Ngujiri Wambugu

According to Wikipedia ‘Tourism’ is travel for recreation, leisure, religious, family or business purposes, usually for a limited duration. Tourism is commonly associated with international travel but also refers to travel to different places within the same country.

World Tourism Organization (WTO) defines tourists as people “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes”

Globally the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), World Bank and many tourism researchers regard tourism as one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Tourism has been the leading growth sectors in the global economy from the 1980s. UNWTO estimates that tourism specifically contributes 30% to world exports of services, 6% to all exports, and 5% to world GDP. When combined with the travel industry tourism contributed $6.3 trillion to the global economy in 2011; equivalent to 9.1% to the world‘s GDP.

Tourism has substantive multiplier effects. The inner circle is the restaurant and accommodation business; which ties into parks, resorts, festivals, cultural fairs and camping sites. These are then directly or indirectly connected to the transport business, property and equipment maintenance, security, building construction and development services, ICT, food production and processing, waste management, human resource management, etc.

In Kenya a large proportion of tourism centres on safaris and tours of the National Parks and Game Reserves. According to the Kenya National Tourism Strategy 2013-2018 tourism is Kenya‘s third largest foreign exchange earner after tea and horticulture, and a major employer accounting for about 12% of the total wage employment and 13.7%of the gross domestic product (GDP). The government has also earmarked tourism as one of the six key growth sectors of the economic pillar of Vision 2030. Kenya tourism traditionally focuses on the Coast and the Rift Valley regions.

Political instability and insecurity; especially terrorism, have adversely affected Kenya tourism. Efforts to introduce domestic tourism have not been very successfully mainly because Kenyans generally do not believe in paying money to see beaches and animals that they grew up hearing about. However the Kenyan middle class is trying to institutionalize August and December family holiday travel; but we are a long way from where such efforts will reverse the losses we are suffering as a country, from diminished tourism. Unfortunately, until we can get a handle on our security challenges we will continue to watch our tourism industry, and its wider support business infrastructure, collapse.

But it does not have to be like this.

I come from Nyeri. Last weekend tens of thousands of people travelled from all over the world to attend the ‘Nyaatha Beatification’ ceremony. People who had most probably never come to Kenya before spent time and money travelling to our beautiful town to participate in a religious ceremony. The effect is that Nyeri got cleaned out better than it has been in the recent past, hotels had guests, transport services were bursting at the seams, and small traders had booming business. Our town came alive.

Now imagine if we learnt from this experience.

Nyeri alone could multiply our tourism numbers exponentially if our tourism mandarins could learn from the ‘Nyaatha Beatification’ experience. Tens of thousands of people travelled from around the world to attend the religious ceremony of a pious nun; many would come again if we created an infrastructure that would make this a regular tourist destination. Many others can travel to see the home of Africa’s First Woman Noble Laureate Wangari Maathai; or visit the home of the (in)famous Dedan Kimathi including the Mau Mau caves. Others will make the annual ‘pilgrimage’ to the grave of the Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout’s movement. Others would love to spend a night in Treetops Hotel, where a young Princess Elizabeth learnt that she had become queen of England.

The ‘Nyaatha’ experience shows that thousands could come to ‘Iten’ if we facilitated travel to the ‘Land of Champions’ for people from across the world to come and run with Kenya’s internationally acclaimed athletes. What if we packaged Nanyuki as a small town where one gets to cross the equator on foot over and over again? How about inviting business tourists to come see how ‘Mpesa’ works?

This is how we will grow Kenya’s tourism. But first we need a paradigm shift. We must see beyond the idea of tourism as just ‘Sun and Sand’ and leverage unique Kenyan ideas, personalities and experiences as opportunities to market Kenya to the world. (This happens all over the world). Second we need to protect what is ours. How did someone in Japan try to patent ‘kiondo’? How is Louis Vuitton ‘unveiling’ Masai Shuka designs? At what point did ‘kikuyu grass’ become associated with Australia?

Basically our Tourism Ministry must think outside the box if Kenyan tourism is to survive, and grow.
According to Wikipedia ‘Tourism’ is travel for recreation, leisure, religious, family or business purposes, usually for a limited duration. Tourism is commonly associated with international travel but also refers to travel to different places within the same country. World Tourism Organization (WTO) defines tourists as people “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes”

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