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Kenyans hold key to profitable tourism

This country is beautiful, and it is through seeing what other communities offer that we can appreciate diversity and eliminate the incessant tribal blinkers.

BY MURIITHI NDEGWA

On 27 September 2018, we marked the World Tourism Day and I was happy to see #TembeaKenya trend on social media. This elicited memories from the days when a big percentage of Kenya’s tourism earnings came from the international market. Little did we know then, that this was not sustainable. However, some experts had foreseen a sorry state of affairs for developing countries that treaded this path.

“If developing countries continue to neglect domestic tourism, the sustainability of their tourism industry will remain unstable.” This is what Ritchie J and Crouch G observed in early 1990s when they wrote a paper titled: Competitiveness in international tourism: A framework for understanding and analysis. The authors of this paper had anticipated a situation where developing countries would suffer reduced tourist numbers from the international market. Sadly for Kenya, the first major terrorist hit happened in 1998 and the tourism industry suffered a great blow. Kenya had relied heavily on international tourism and travel advisories that followed, every terrorist scare and attack led to reduced numbers.

Strong domestic tourism base

I have had the privilege of working in the tourism sector as a team leader being at the frontline in marketing Kenya as a tourist destination. I joined the industry in October 2009 when I was appointed Managing Director, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB). Tourism was then on its knees – in terms of arrival numbers and revenue. Our country had just come from the 2007 post-election violence. Growing tourism back to its former glory and ensuring sustainability in this, was therefore by all means a herculean task.

KTB had to do a lot of campaigns aimed at convincing the international market that Kenya was a safe destination to do business with, and to visit. This witnessed growth in numbers, and by 2011, the industry recorded excellent performance which was a 15.4 percent growth compared to tourist arrivals in 2010 (the highest ever levels attained both in arrivals and revenue as by then, up to 2011).

One great lesson that I learnt, is that any tourism destination worth its name must have a strong domestic tourism base, followed by regional then international. While international tourism is lucrative, it is susceptible to fluctuations brought about by changes in the macro marketing environment.

Marketing locally

Consequently, I was privileged to have been at the helm of KTB when the domestic tourism department was transferred from the Ministry of Tourism to KTB as recommended by a study commissioned by the then Tourism Minister. Before then, KTB was solely responsible for marketing Kenya to the international market. This was in 2010 and domestic tourism had been contributing an average of 25 per cent of the total volume of business measured by the number of beds that were occupied by Kenyans, in the 4 years upto 2007, year of elections.

As a team, we developed campaigns and programmes that were geared towards promoting domestic tourism. It is during these campaigns that we realized that the domestic market was not aware of available offers – better hotel rates as well as packages for transport and tourist sites.

We created a link on Magical Kenya website – Tembea Kenya – which was accessible to the domestic market – to set aside offers geared to the local market from those targeting international markets. We did several media campaigns aimed at letting Kenyans know about the Tembea Kenya sub site. Slowly and gradually, Tembea Kenya became a catch-phrase for domestic tourism.  We partnered with brand ambassadors and even a local TV station for a programme that involved visiting less known sites and showcasing their beauty, unique sceneries and offers.

Finally, a boom

We partnered with a number of hotels and tour operators who would give specific offers to the domestic market. Peak seasons for domestic tourism falls on school holidays, while the rest of the year is even.  Kenyans started capitalizing on those events and realized that it was indeed affordable.

We also partnered with various counties to promote their local festivals, cultures and cuisine. For example, Samburu and Lamu Counties to promote the Maralal Annual Camel Derby and the Lamu Cultural Festival. We also launched the Magical Kenya Travel Expo to promote exhibitions in the sector.

All these initiatives coupled with dedication and support by all the key stakeholders in the sector, resulted in significant growth in domestic tourism.

Early February 2018 the CS for Tourism and Wildlife, CS Najib Balala acknowledged the steady growth of the local tourism sector as recorded in the Economic Survey report. The report puts the bed-nights occupancy by Kenyans at 54 per cent of all bed-nights occupancy by 2016, the highest ever.

I have travelled extensively around Kenya, to most of the 47 counties and in many parts of the world and I can assert confidently that God has blessed us with a beautiful country. I therefore, firmly believe that it is through visiting, seeing and experiencing what other communities offer, that we can appreciate our diversity and eliminate the incessant tribal blinkers and bigotry.

Muriithi Ndegwa, OGW, HSC, FKIM is the Executive Director/ CEO, the Kenya Institute of Management. Email: mndegwa@kim.ac.ke

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