JKIA fire won’t diminish our focus, we’ll bounce back!

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Two events this week threw into sharp focus how vigilante we ought to be of the well-being of our economy and how the promise of regional integration through East African Community can be realized by this generation.

The first event was the unfortunate fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the second the 7th edition of the East African Military Games which are currently ongoing in Nairobi.

When a section of JKIA burns, its tourism, trade and regional integration that is at risk. JKIA is not only the hub of the aviation industry in Africa, but also the main exit for majority of our exports.

The fire is an ugly and unforeseen bump in our economic trajectory but it does not alter our destiny; it slows us down, it does not stop us. I am proud and pleased at how quickly and effectively the government rallied resources to ensure a quick resumption of normal operations at the airport.

There is no sugar coating the effect of the fire on the tourism industry-it is a body blow and its pain will be felt in the short term-but only in the short term. We will hurt for a while because of flight delays and cancellations but I have absolutely no doubt that we will bounce back and that our tourism will prosper, know more vibrancy and soar to new heights. Indeed such is my faith that I am positive this high season will deliver more visitors than last year.

My confidence stems from an inside perspective of the strategies we have put in place to generate the arrival numbers we know we deserve and those enunciated in Vision 2030. We are in the process of deploying an aggressive marketing campaign that will target new and untapped markets like China, India and the Middle East as well as our traditional source markets in Europe and America.

The President’s trip to the Mara last weekend was part of an outreach to 1.4 billion Chinese population through a live interview on CCTV which is part of the efforts to woo more Chinese tourists.

This market dexterity is the only way we grow our tourism for the long term, it is the only way we get the numbers we want and more importantly how we sustain them and underwrite the prosperity of the industry for generations.

The populations of China and India are well known and so are their soaring economic fortunes and all we want to say to the combined billions of people in the two nations is you can take a few weeks off every year and have a great holiday in Kenya.

If we add a strong local and regional push I see no reason why we cannot push for the five million visitor mark in the not so distant future.

We also need to add more to our tourism offering. Sandy beaches and the big five are great and they have been the bedrock of the business for a long time, but we need to start adding to the foundation to fully actualize the potential of our industry.

There is a functional type of tourism that incorporates conference and medical tourism, the capacity for developing distinction in both is certainly not beyond our reach especially the former. We can also leverage on cultural and sports tourism in a bolder and stronger sense than we have done in the past.

When we finish implementing these strategies we give ourselves a secure and lasting capacity for true and lasting success in the tourism sector and the nation as well.

I mentioned the Military Games because they are a reminder that we have much to share as the people of East Africa and it is only through the crossing of borders and the sharing of stories, cultures, ideas and interacting with one another that we shall harness and extract the fullness of the idea of the East African Community that prides of 120 million market.

It is only when we travel to each other’s countries and see for ourselves that we shall develop a strong sense of what we have in common and be able to distill the opportunities that exist in the community at an individual and institutional level.

The Military Games are a fine example of the exchange that is at the heart of bringing the East Africa Community to life and prosperity and creating one people with one destiny in one community.

Phyllis Kandie is the Cabinet Secretary, East Africa Affairs, Commerce and Tourism.

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