What we can learn from other developing nations to advance our tourism

More often than not, different places mean different things to different people. The memories we take back from our travels depend upon our experiences, demographic and ultimately, our interests. So it comes down to one question – how do different tourism boards entice a diverse array of travellers to visit their respective countries?

Most recently, the Rwanda Development Board signed an agreement with the well renowned English Premier League football club, Arsenal, making Rwanda the official tourism partner for Arsenal for the next three years.

Pursuant to this partnership, the “Visit Rwanda” logo will be featured on the left sleeve of each team member and the team will also visit Rwanda to host football coaching camps to support the development of the game in the country. “Visit Rwanda” will gain global exposure through branding on match day LED boards, interview backdrops and the club’s stadium tour.

Whilst this new partnership may have invited differing reactions, it still remains to be seen that Rwanda has been bold enough to take the tourism game in Africa to all new heights. For a country that still has the scars visible from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, it has developed into a beautiful country with a lot to offer its visitors.

Last year alone, Rwanda played host to 1.3 million visitors. Being Rwanda’s largest foreign exchange earner, it also created employment for 90,000 people in 2017. Rwanda intends to double its tourism revenues from USD 404 million today to USD 800 million by 2024. With such a bold marketing strategy, Rwanda is well on its way to achieving that milestone.

I happened to learn from certain social media sources that American comedian, actress and television host, Ellen DeGeneres, decided to visit Kenya last week. Ellen, one of the most influential people in the world today, was en route to Rwanda as part of the conservation efforts carried out by the ‘Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund’ in aid of the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

She announced her visit to East Africa on her talk show just days before arriving into Kenya – now that is an incredible opportunity that both, the “Magical Kenya” Tourism Board and “Remarkable Rwanda” Development Board could have taken advantage of to promote tourism for their respective countries, considering that Ellen and her television show have millions of followers worldwide.

Croatia and Turkey are amongst the most outstanding countries I have visited in recent years. These countries stood out for me because, like Kenya, these countries have had a difficult past with challenges of war and acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, they have managed to grow robust economies through tourism.

Croatia, a relatively new country, gained independence in the early nineties after a lengthy war which destroyed the country beyond resuscitation; but their economy emerged strong barely a decade after the war ended by luring visitors to new and unexplored lands.
In order to promote tourism in Croatia, the government put in place an aggressive policy which supported investors in the hospitality and tourism sector in order to make the country more attractive to international visitors. Tourism dominates the Croatian service sector, accounting for up to 20pc of the country’s GDP.

Its annual tourism industry income for 2017 was estimated at EUR 9.5 billion. The tourism industry has grown rapidly since the end of the Croatian War of Independence, recording a fourfold rise in tourist numbers, with more than 11 million tourists each year, making Croatia one of the most visited places in the world.

Not only does Croatia have stunning islands which are alluring to both the locals as well as international tourists, but also, as various scenes from the popular HBO television series ‘Game of Thrones’ is filmed in Dubrovnik, tourists have been flocking to the city by the thousands. According to recent reports in the Croatian media, the country is ranked as the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world. About 15pc of these visitors, or over one million per year, are involved with naturism, an industry for which Croatia is world-famous.

Turkey, on the other hand, is a huge business hub as well as cultural hub for passengers in transit to Europe and America. The terror attacks and security challenges faced in the last few years has led to the government intensifying its surveillance and intelligence efforts in order to provide visitors with a sense of security. In fact, during my visit to Istanbul and Bodrum last year, neither did I feel unsafe nor even recognize that there could have been a problem. International guests were received with the utmost hospitality and warmth. Despite a drop in the numbers, Turkey reported a recovery last year with more foreign tourists visiting the country.

While it was generally a difficult 2017 for the Kenyan economy, the tourism industry remained surprisingly resilient against all expectations. The recent political truce between His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta and Honourable Prime Minister Raila Odinga was a welcome change. It indicated even more stability, which is great for the tourism industry and also for the rest of the economy. This has seen the Kenyan economy begin to stabilize for the better.

Usually, the tourism industry in Kenya has proven to be amongst the most vulnerable industries, subjected to all manners of shocks, particularly those relating to political risks and security threats. Throughout most of last year, economic activity had been on a slump, triggered by the protracted uncertainty in the political climate because of the elections.

Nonetheless, the tourism industry, which is critical to the Kenyan economy, delivering 10pc of the GDP, remained steady. According to a report by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), international tourist traffic actually increased compared to a similar period last year. With 213,543 visitors arriving through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and Moi international Airport in Mombasa during the second quarter of the year, it was a 14.4pc rise compared to a similar period in 2016.

These are good tidings for the tourism industry in Kenya. It is testimony that sustained efforts invested in growing the industry are finally paying off. Indeed, good times are nigh. This resilience in an industry that is overly sensitive to security is a huge milestone. A stable tourism industry means an increase in employment opportunities and sustained livelihoods for Kenyan households, in addition to a myriad of economic benefits for the country.

This growth in the tourism industry has obviously not been self-triggering. It has taken sustained and consistent efforts by the Government and tourism industry players, as well as Kenyans of goodwill, to unlock the potential.

A key driver of this has been a generally positive sentiment about the Kenyan tourism industry. The political goodwill and interest in supporting this industry has played a big role. Significantly buoyed by sustained and tireless marketing efforts by Brand Kenya, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), and the Ministry of Tourism, this is bearing fruit in as far as changing perception is concerned. In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, information
spreads rapidly. Positive sentiment about a destination easily translates into an uptake in interest by tourists.

The ongoing investment in infrastructure has also served to open up the tourist attractions across the country. For instance, access to the South Coast, which has been a major point for tourists visiting this region, will be greatly boosted by the eagerly awaited opening of the Dongo Kundu Bypass in the near future.

Together with the Ukunda Airstrip, tourists now have faster and more convenient options of getting to South Coast besides having to fly into Mombasa and then enduring the painstaking traffic jams to the ferry. Endless efforts are being invested by the Jubilee Administration in opening up aerodromes and rolling out roads across the country to facilitate access to tourist attraction sites.

KTB has partnered with Google, Safaricom, Kenya Wildlife Service and Tourism Finance Corporation to introduce an online training program aimed at promoting domestic tourism. According to KTB chief executive Dr Betty Radier the program will leverage on increased use of internet by Kenyan holiday makers in line with their strategic objective to enhance visitors’ experience and increase the length of their stay. Almost every Kenyan has access to the internet through their mobile phones providing us with a great opportunity to engage with them on travel related content and experiences.

KTB will work with the identified partners to involve players in the tourism and travel sector to enable them to utilize the internet to their advantage. It is for this reason that KTB launched “Culture Captcha” – a platform that allows for all Kenyans to be brand ambassadors of our country. KTB expects the programme to deliver a 20pc growth in returns and 5 million bed nights booked by end 2018.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Honourable Najib Balala previously asserted that the industry’s potential in the country is under-utilized. I completely agree with his sentiment shared in February 2018 at a National Tourism Stakeholders’ Forum, that digital marketing is the key strategy in enabling the sector to realize at least three million tourists annually.

The industry has also been piggybacking tourism products on other successful Kenyan events including Barclays Kenya Open 2018 and various annual global conferences to boost Kenya in the global tourism arena. Tourism receipts increased by 20pc to hit Sh119 billion in 2017 from Sh99.7 billion recorded in 2016.

We are on the right track and have a compelling tourism product. It is indeed assuring to know that whilst we continue to work towards strengthening Kenya’s unquestionable appeal to its source markets, we have political goodwill to support this growth. The challenge for us now is sustaining this growth momentum in order to unlock a lot more for the benefit of the industry, and the economy as a whole. We have to continue aggressively and vigorously marketing our country as a destination.

We have achieved a lot, but we still have miles to go.

(The writer is the Managing Director – Zuri Group Global)

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