Kenya is fast regaining her famed tourist status, having learned a quick and painful lesson from the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The reasons behind the resurgence of the tourism sector include political stability, diversification of tourism generating markets and a continued government commitment to providing an enabling environment, boosted by successful marketing and huge security support.
Tourism Performance Results (TPR) figures recently released by the Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala indicate that compared to the 925,000 tourists who visited the country in 2009, there were 1.1 million visitors in 2010 – short of the projected 1.2 million but earning the country some $925m.This was a renewed endorsement for Kenya.
“We are happy with the results even though we slightly missed what we had projected. This makes 2010 our best year since 2007…we need to market aggressively. If we have the resources we shall have 1.4 million visitors by the end of 2011,” says Balala.
The Kenyan tourism industry contributes immensely to the country’s economic performance, accounting for 11% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The sector has exceeded the 2007 visitor figures by 17% per month on average, with Kenya’s main vacationers coming from the UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Uganda, the Netherlands, Tanzania, South Africa, India, Canada, China, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, Korea and Spain.
For years, the Kenyan sightseeing sector was dependent on and solely associated with its stunning wildlife on the Kenyan savannah, beaches, in the mountains and across the scenic Rift Valley landscape.
The “Big Five Safari” (a marketing concept for the elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino) was a must-do for tourists. This catchphrase, a Kenyan invention, sold Kenya’s communities as living in harmony with wildlife and highlighted Kenya’s globally acclaimed conservation models.
This unique aspect of Kenya’s tourism industry certainly received a big boost when the inimitable great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti-Maasai Mara Game Reserve was declared “the seventh wonder of the world” by experts on the US TV channel ABC in 2006. To cap the wildlife safari, Kenya’s popular coastal beach resorts wrapped up many tourism itineraries.
Fully acknowledging that the tourism industry has been a key sector and a major foreign exchange earner after agriculture, the Kenyan government is realigning it so as to cater for new demands and ward off competition from countries with similar offers. The stiff competition and fickleness of tourism during the global financial crunch have forced the country’s tourism technocrats to adopt new skills to market the country. Kenya has changed its approach to selling the tourism sector, even though the country’s sometimes tumultuous politics get in the way, which is something Balala recognises: “Let us tone down politics. If we play our politics in a more civil way, we will be able to balance our economy, our image and the game of politics itself.”
Hitherto, tourism was seen as an exclusive market open only to a select few. This situation has now changed significantly. With the repositioning of the coalition government, the best talent from the private sector has been sourced to re-engineer the tourism pillar, one of the Vision 2030 key cornerstones.
Management guru Michael Joseph, who steered mobile phone company Safaricom from scratch to become one of East Africa’s best telecommunications companies, was headhunted to lead the marketing arm of the state-run Kenya Tourist Board (KTB), from December 2010.
“I hope to make Kenya a destination of choice for everyone…My goal is to make Kenya an even more magical destination for the rest of the world and to reach out to new source markets,” he says.
With the reengineering of KTB, other state agencies within the tourism ministry, notably, Kenya Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), which provides financial support to investors in the sector, Kenya Utalii College (KUC), which trains personnel in the sector, and Bomas of Kenya (BoK), which showcases all of Kenya’s ethnic groupings, are also being revamped to meet emerging demands.
Also in the pipeline is the establishment of the Kenya Tourism Research Institute (KTRI) whose functions will include “assessment of strategies and techniques for product development and marketing, the undertaking of marketing intelligence, and the provision of information on early warning and disaster management.”
As it streamlined its tourism agencies on the one hand, the government embarked on phase two of its strategy, which was to diversify Kenyan source markets and also offer new incentives in line with global travel dynamics.