Confidence about Kenya's tourism future
Two major recent tourism events in Kenya, the Magical Kenya Travel Expo – held this year at the seaside resort of Diani south of Mombasa – and the just-ended Africa Travel Association Congress in Nairobi, have given hundreds of tourism trade visitors the opportunity to see the country’s attractions and judge for themselves just how ludicrous the Western anti-travel advisories really are.
Dozens of invited media representatives, representing global aviation and travel media, have also alongside these two events come to Kenya to check the situation on the ground, including the opportunity to interview and talk with high-ranking officials, including Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie, her Principal Secretary Dr. Ibrahim, Tourism Secretary Dr. Kinyua, and the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board Mr. Muriithi Ndegwa. They also had ample opportunity to meet key tourism stakeholders and discuss their outlook for the rest of 2015 and 2016, and there was a broad sense of renewed optimism across the ranks that the country was now set for a recovery from the lows prompted by rabid and blanket anti travel advisories slapped on the country by Western nations.
Against expectations, however, the just released September arrival figures still showed a downwards trend, in particular for the coastal resort city of Mombasa.
Between January and September this year, only 53,084 visitors arrived at Moi International Airport Mombasa, down from 94,750 a year ago. This drop of nearly 44 percent was thankfully mitigated by arrivals at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, which brought the year-on-year downturn to an average of 16.9 percent for the country as a whole. By the end of September 2015, arrivals at airports stood at 555,795 with the trend now bottoming out while just four years ago at the height of Kenya’s tourism performance this figure stood at over 930,000.
"We have put various measures into action to stimulate source market demand. For one we have taken a fresh look at the African markets for Kenya. These are less sensitive to travel advisories than for instance some European countries. There the taste for travel to Kenya is also impacted by insurance companies, on the strength of negative travel advisories, refusing travel insurance. That problem we countered by offering such packages directly from Kenya, underwritten by AIG which is a global insurance giant. We have dedicated big resources for emerging markets but as you pointed out, this may take time to yield results. We are lobbying government to open up the airspace for direct scheduled flights to Mombasa. We had all hoped that by July or August the figures for arrivals would begin to climb again but are anyway encouraged by the feedback we got from our 174 hosted buyers who came for MKTE 2015. We are also encouraged by the positive stories about Kenya our media invitational tours have generated in key markets and hope for the same in the aftermath of the ATA Congress. We opened up niche markets like sports tourism, especially golfing and are tapping into the higher spending segments like birding. Cruise tourism too has shown signs of revival but it is important that the Kenya Ports Authority plays ball and improves facilities for cruise liners. The Indian Ocean islands have struck deals with the main cruise lines and we bank on these itineraries also including port calls in Mombasa. I can confidently say that in my personal opinion, even though I am not a spokesperson for my organization, the worst is now behind us and we can be positive about next year. The process will be a long one to return to those 2011 / 2012 figures but we are not shy of working the markets. The help of the media to portray a fair picture of our country will be very much appreciated," said one regular source on condition of not being named but close to the center of the tourism public sector.
This correspondent is presently on a second media tour in the space of a month, and while the feedback on the level of organization during the ATA Congress has provided a mixed bag of reviews – it was the Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism which was responsible for those arrangements – fellow media representatives are much more enthusiastic about the tour organized by the Kenya Tourism Board which is now underway. High-profile visiting locations such as the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Serena Sweetwaters Safari Camp, the Enashipai Resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha, and the Rusinga Island Camp on Lake Victoria have already received a thumbs up as seen by interaction with fellow scribes on those tours. This correspondent’s own tour to the Masai Mara’s Karen Blixen Camp and the upcoming visit to Watamu has equally impressed the other 8 media individuals who come from Canada, the United States, Argentina, and Uganda.
The Watamu Marine Association provided an insight into their award-winning community and conservation outreach programs which should go a long way to showcase Kenya as a conservation-minded destination, a hotbed of biodiversity, and a destination definitely worth visiting.