Kenya: Security Key to Achieving Kenya’s Tourism Potential
By Njonjo Kihuria, 21 July 2014
1. Njonjo Kihuria: You are currently in the UK marketing ‘Destination Kenya’ – what reception are you getting?
JGC: Kenya has been a popular destination for British visitors for many decades and the UK has always been our biggest source market. In previous years over 200,000 British visitors flew in to Nairobi and Mombasa each year, although this has declined recently to around 150,000 UK visitor arrivals, followed by the USA with around 120,000. Although China is one of the fastest growing markets to Kenya and frequently cited by many self-appointed experts as the panacea for our hard-pressed tourism industry, it brings in only about a quarter of the numbers coming from the UK. Many people may not realise that Britain is one of the five biggest outbound tourism markets in the world with over 58 million overseas visits a year from the UK to other countries. It is an important market for all our competitors. Kenya and its attractions are well known in the UK and at least a million British tourists have visited in the last ten years. There are good air connections between London and Nairobi with daily direct flights and the UK has consistently been a reliable and steady source market for Kenya’s tourism industry. Anyone marketing Kenya always receives a friendly and positive reception from tour companies in UK but that welcome is currently tempered by concerns following extensive media coverage of recent terrorist incidents and the resulting imposition recently of a Travel Advisory by the British government warning its citizens to avoid all “non-essential” travel to Mombasa and its environs. This has caused a suspension by UK travel agents of any promotion of tours to Kenya’s coast until the Advisory is lifted and this is having a knock-on effect with a drop in demand for safari holidays to Kenya.
2. Njonjo Kihuria: What are the biggest concerns of the potential British tourist about Kenya?
JGC: The major concerns are security, security and security. With all the international media correspondents based in Nairobi, each and every incident anywhere in the country is given full coverage in the international media to an extent that does not happen elsewhere, such as in neighbouring Tanzania or Uganda for example, and unfortunately some of the reporting has been inaccurate and sensational, giving the impression that tourist resorts and places frequented by overseas visitors are under regular attack when this has certainly not been the case. The appalling events in Mpeketoni were described as being on Lamu island while the burning down of an office at the nearby Amu Ranch was reported as being an attack on “a key tourist centre”. For as long as potential visitors are being made to feel convinced that it is unsafe to come to Kenya for a safari or a beach holiday, the demand will remain depressed and volumes from UK will be unlikely to reach anywhere near their potential. Malaysia for example receives more than double the number of British visitors even though it is further to fly and air fares are higher while even a small Caribbean island like Barbados now has more British tourists than Kenya.
3. Njonjo Kihuria: There are about 240 tourist destinations to choose from. Why would one choose Kenya?
JGC: The key attractions of Kenya for British visitors are:
- Climate – A year round destination with sunshine and good weather.
- Kenya is only 8 hours flying time from the UK, much closer than South Africa or Botswana with many international airlines operating daily flights and with lower airfares than competing destinations.
- Friendly, hospitable people who speak English and a well-trained workforce in the hotels able to provide international standards of service.
- Safari holidays are seen as very desirable by many British tourists and numerous TV programmes in UK feature African wildlife, attracting huge audiences. Kenya has a comparative advantage as there are very few countries in the world where the same huge range of wildlife species can be seen other than Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana or South Africa with Rwanda attracting tourists to see its gorillas.
- Kenya’s national parks, game reserves and wildlife conservancies are some of the finest and most famous in the world.
- Kenya has a well-developed tourism infrastructure with good quality hotels, lodges and camps as well as a network of air services linking Nairobi with the main wildlife parks and reserves.
- Kenya also has beautiful tropical beaches and accommodation in a range of facilities in the beach resorts and although there is far more worldwide competition from beaches in America, Caribbean, North Africa, Indian Ocean islands, India, Far East, South Pacific and Australia the others cannot offer the unique combination of safari plus beach that Kenya can.
4. Njonjo Kihuria: How does our marketing budget compare with other similar destinations and what should be done to improve the same?
JGC: Kenya’s marketing budget is a fraction of most other countries for which tourism is an important contributor to GDP. Any increase in expenditure on marketing will result in an increase in visitor arrivals and tourism earnings for the country. With the present slump in tourism following the wide coverage of terrorist attacks and insecurity in the international media, there is an urgent need to allocate funds to an effective PR campaign in the key overseas markets as a high priority in order to improve Kenya’s image and to reassure potential visitors. A country like the UK spends over $70 million on tourism marketing campaigns with the objective of bringing in additional income of $3.5 billion in visitor spend from 4.6 million additional visitors and $800 million in tax revenue while creating 57,000 new jobs, as stated in their tourism marketing plans which are published for all to see. The Kenyan tourism sector has been asking the government to release Kshs 200 million (less than $2.5 million) for a special tourism marketing recovery campaign. The point is that allocating funds to marketing tourism is an investment that should result in increased foreign exchange earnings for the country and increased tax revenue for the government.
5. Njonjo Kihuria: Does the argument that it is more advantageous to use international agencies to market the destination as opposed to ‘local committees’, hold water?
JGC: Kenya is not the only country with a tourism industry and there are many lessons to be learnt from other countries with flourishing tourism. International airlines and overseas tour operators and travel agents have an important role to play in marketing Kenya and encouraging bookings but so too does the country’s national tourist board while the private sector tourism stakeholders in Kenya who manage the tourism facilities and operate the transport and tours should also be actively engaged in marketing in co-operation with the national tourism board and overseas partners including the international travel press. We should be working with the media rather than trying to fight it! Some years ago KTB established the principle that it was far more effective to appoint professional international companies as the marketing representatives for Kenya in all the key overseas markets instead of relying on inexperienced and unqualified embassy staff to perform this role and this approach has proved a success. However these overseas offices need to be provided with a budget to carry out intensive PR campaigns to build a better image for Kenya to counteract the recent negative media coverage. The government has an important role in creating an enabling environment which will attract more visitors and make it possible for companies to do well in the tourism sector. The government is also responsible for safe-guarding the natural resources that constitute Kenya’s tourism attractions such as the country’s iconic wildlife species and in providing the infrastructure needed in the form of modern airports and a network of paved roads to the key tourist areas. And finally it is only the government that can ensure the security of its visitors and its citizens.
6. Njonjo Kihuria: What is the current bed occupancy in Kenya and what has contributed to the decline and how can this be reversed? What have been the numbers of arrivals in the country in the last few months?
JGC: These figures are produced by KTB and the latest have not been announced yet but the most recent reports from the coast indicate that hotels are operating at the lowest occupancy levels that have been seen in years and that many staff have been laid off or have been obliged to take voluntary pay-cuts in order to keep operating at occupancy levels that are well below break-even. The safari camps and lodges are going into the high season now but most have seen a drop in occupancy compared with previous years and forward bookings for the months later in the year and early next year are looking very poor and reported to be down by 20% or more for most camps and lodges. This can only be reversed by a co-ordinated campaign to promote Kenya positively as a safe destination for tourists but this needs to be combined with action at home by the government to address the security issues with effective measures.
7. Njonjo Kuhuria: Which sub sectors (charter, beach, safari, high-end, conference or meetings) have been affected most and why?
JGC: Charter flights to the coast are a fraction of what they were in previous years and the mass-market mainstream tour operators are seriously affected. But so too are the more up-market tour companies particularly from Western Europe and North America. Efforts have been made in recent years to develop more business from India and other markets in the East such as Singapore, Korea and China and these efforts are paying off and helping to make up for some of the declines from the important markets in the West which are still the biggest source of travellers globally. Conferences and meetings perhaps offer an opportunity for hotels geared to this business to promote themselves in local and regional markets which may be less affected by security concerns.
8. Njonjo Kihuria: Tourism is sneezing – how will this affect the economy? How will the collapsing tourism industry affect the trickle-down effect? (e.g. employees, suppliers, beach traders etc)
JGC: When tourism experiences a slump there is always a knock-on effect. Tourism in Kenya can have a very positive “multiplier effect” as it creates an increased demand for other goods and services from many other sectors in the economy and is an important source of employment for thousands of Kenyans. When people lose their jobs and when companies supplying goods and services to the tourism industry lose contracts or see a drop in business due to reduced demand then this can start a downward spiral that will only be reversed when the tourism industry recovers.
9. Njonjo Kihuria: Is the ‘tax break’ incentive offered by government to local companies who give their employees local holidays, working. If not, why not?
JGC: Although this was an imaginative and innovative move by the government it is not enough on its own to reverse the slump in tourism. That can only be done by giving the highest priority to addressing the concerns about security and the obvious inadequacies in our policing and security agencies that have so far failed to bring things under control. We also need an effective PR campaign to improve Kenya’s image in our key overseas markets so that potential visitors realise that we have wonderful attractions which hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world are still enjoying and that action is being taken to ensure that visitors’ safety and security is well taken care of by the government. When you consider that we have a million international visitors a year coming here, and that the number of incidents of insecurity in which tourists get caught up is actually very minimal in comparison to other holiday destinations, then there is really no reason why visitors should not be able to keep coming here and enjoying our attractions.
10. Njonjo Kihuria: What roles should the central, county governments and other institutions including the opposition play to ensure stability in the industry?
JGC: We need a greater realisation by all in government and other institutions that our tourism industry which has been taken for granted and undervalued for so long can actually be an economic engine of growth for Kenya as it is for so many other countries in the world which maximise its potential even though they may not have our natural resources and attractions. We are wasting what could be a valuable resource if only we would recognise its importance and give it more support to fulfil its true potential. Look at the example of countries like Malaysia, Mauritius, Barbados, Turkey, Australia and Greece, all of which have used tourism as a means of boosting their economies and creating employment for their citizens. Developed countries have long understood that tourism is an important sector in their economies. This can be demonstrated by a list of ten countries with high earnings from incoming international tourism:
- United States $139.6 billion
- Spain $60.4 billion
- France $56.1 billion
- China $51.7 billion
- Italy $43.9 billion
- Thailand $42.1 billion
- Germany $41.2 billion
- United Kingdom $40.6 billion
- Australia $30.9 billion
- Turkey $27.9 billion
Some of these countries earn more from tourism alone than Kenya’s entire GDP and all of them recognise the importance of tourism as a major sector in their economies. It is time that Kenya did the same so that it too can gain a huge economic boost from utilising tourism to the country’s advantage.
11. Footnote: Simon Anholt is the world’s leading authority on creating positive “national brands” and this is what he has written, which is very relevant to Kenya:
“Creating a better image for a country is often far cheaper and always infinitely harder than people imagine. It’s about creating a feasible yet inspirational long-term vision for the development of the country and pursuing that aim through good leadership, economic and social reform, imaginative and effective cultural and political and trading relations, transparency and integrity, infrastructure, education, taxation and so forth: in other words, substance. The substance is then expressed, over many years, through a series of symbolic actions which bring it memorably, effectively and lastingly to the world’s attention.”
Jake Grieves-Cook, Nairobi, Kenya
Jake Grieves-Cook is Managing Director and founder of Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps. He is a Kenyan citizen and was educated at Nairobi School in Kenya and Oxford University in UK. He has been involved in Kenya’s tourism industry for over 40 years, starting his career in the Masai Mara in 1972, and has held positions as Managing Director of Block Hotels, Marketing Director of Kuoni Travel in the UK and was the founder of the tour company Tropical Places in UK. In Kenya he has been a pioneer in the setting up of wildlife conservancies on land leased from Maasai communities adjacent to parks and reserves. He has been Chairman of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya, on the board of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, a trustee of the EU / Kenya Government Tourism Trust Fund (TTF) and a Vice-Chairman of the East African Wildlife Society. From 2004 until 2011 he served two terms as Chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board and was awarded MBS (Moran of the Burning Spear) for services to tourism and wildlife conservation in Kenya.