International tourists surged 89.1 per cent to 723,630 in the eight months through August, compared to 382,619 in the same period last year, indicating a continued recovery from the pandemic in the past two years.
However, the numbers are way below the over 2.04 million international arrivals registered in 2019, which was regarded as the best year of the sector.
Bobby Kamani, the Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa managing director and a director at the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), spoke with the Business Daily on diversifying from signature experiences and how the country would benefit from the open skies policy.
Is Kenya playing below its potential given countries without animals and sandy beaches like Egypt are attracting over 10 million visitors?
If you look at 2018 and 2019, we were talking about two million tourist arrivals per year, the highest Kenya has ever seen.
The fact that 2018 was a political year, didn’t affect tourism activities. When Covid-19 hit us, we saw arrivals of half a million, and things started improving in 2021.
We are quite hopeful this year and I think we are going to across 1.5 million visitors by the end of December.
I do see travel going back to the pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
This is obviously going to be assisted by the number of airlines coming in, the frequency of the airlines, the capacity of seats, and how attractive certain destinations are, either to the international market or to the local markets.
What does Kenya need to do to march arrivals in countries like South Africa?
If you look at the way we deal with the East African Community, we have to relax restrictions on travel. For example, if you want to go to Uganda, you don’t really need your passport, you just need your national ID.
These kinds of things are really encouraging travel. There are so many ways that we can ease travel restrictions between certain countries.
South Africa has now given 90 days of visa-free travel for Kenyan travellers. Imagine if that were the case for the whole of Africa. It would encourage travel and trade.
The traditional tourism countries have always been South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Kenya.
Kenya needs to take it a step higher and that will only happen when you see a lot of initiatives from KTB and the Tourism ministry and support from other ministries like Foreign Affairs and Transport.
The ministry has previously pointed to low budget allocation as holding back its services. How can this be solved?
About 15 per cent of all tourism earnings should go to the marketing of Kenya.
At the moment, it’s less than five per cent looking at all the taxes and levies that we collect from hotels and hospitality establishments. That is not enough.
If we want to create the waves that we are talking of, we do need 15 per cent of those tourism earnings to be spent directly and exclusively marketing Kenya as a destination overseas.
KTB has also started its domestic marketing campaign, Kenya Inatosha, which has done well.
For the international markets, it requires a huge spend for digital marketing, advertising on different platforms, being present in different markets and exhibitions and representing Kenya where tourism is been spoken.
Is the attraction of the Indian Ocean and safaris in places like Masai Mara fading or fatigued? Is it time to diversify?
Of course, because Kenya has too much to offer. Look at Chalbi Desert and Turkana. There is so much to offer.
Why are we talking about safari, beach and bush? We have to expand our horizons. These kinds of destinations are for a target market.
There is a niche that we are not taking advantage of. What about adventure tourism? For people who like hiking, why are we not promoting hiking and the country’s waterfalls?
A country gets known for its signature experiences. Masai Mara and the Kenyan coast are signature experiences.
I don’t see any harm in those continuing to become revenue earners for the country. In the meantime, we develop other products like adventure tourism, culture, and medical tourism.
Is it a sustainable policy to offer cut rates to entice local and international holidaymakers?
The issue is not rates. It’s airlines. Once we have aviation sorted out, things will be a lot better.
The moment it’s more affordable for you to travel to a destination, that destination becomes affordable as well.
A traveller has to factor in their airline costs. That is a huge part of when you choose and where you choose to go for a holiday.
If you look at more family-friendly properties in different parts of Kenya they are reasonably priced.
When you have certain high-end experiences and they are bringing high foreign exchange into the country, why stop?
There is a certain market for that. And there are other establishments bringing in larger numbers of people, maybe at less costs for tourists as well.
Both are income streams for the country, so why stop?
How is the open sky policy affecting the sector?
Kenya would benefit from open skies in many ways. As a destination, it would become more attractive and competitive with more flight options for international travellers, more connections from more countries and ultimately lower fares.
Kenyan businesses would benefit from lower fares for air travel, more flight options and lower cargo rates for exports.
Many countries have adopted open skies policies, especially those that want to develop tourism.
Tourism is a very competitive environment. We compete against so many other destinations, why should we add unnecessary limits?
What should Kenya do to counter global warming that threatens existing wildlife ranges?
Wildlife conservancies should not be left at the mercy of park fees. We can’t use park fees to maintain the well-being of the animals.
In the past, we have done that with fees determined by the manner people are coming into the country.
Park fees are also higher for international guests and now that we don’t have that we are not able to bring in those revenues.
When we have a situation of drought where animals are dying, park fees will not be able to sustain those animals.
We have seen global celebrities come and do conversancy work here in Kenya, so why are we not doing it from here? The idea is to raise funds for wildlife.
Which other areas need investment for the development of the sector?
Tourism requires quality infrastructure. This includes roads and bridges, railways and airports.
For airports, Nairobi deserves state-of-the-art terminals. Our airport is the first and the last impression we give to our guests.
Nairobi is also the logical gateway to East, Central and even South Africa.
The infrastructure needs to be upgraded so that it becomes more attractive to international travellers both for arrivals, departures and for connections.
We should also look at upgrading our regional airports so that we can attract more airlines and more passengers directly to Lamu, Malindi or Diani for example.