A relatively new concept in the tourism industry is conference tourism; a niche market sub sector that revolves around service provision to business travellers attending seminars, workshops, conferences and conventions.
Conference marketing is a sub sector within the tourism industry which specialises in selling of conference rooms.
At the moment, conference tourism is the largest and fastest growing segment of the modern tourism sector.
It has a higher financial impact because conference travellers spend more than leisure travellers. Often their expenses are paid for by the organisations they represent, leaving the tourists with substantial disposable incomes that they can spend.
Various local and regional tourism sector developments have taken place in the recent past.
We have witnessed the construction of new hotels at the heart of Nairobi like the upcoming Crown Plaza in Upper Hill, Tribe Hotel at Village Market-Gigiri, Ole-Sereni along Mombasa Road and the Westlands Hotel coming up next to Sarit Centre.
These new properties will give the city enough headroom to grow conference tourism because more multi-nationals are setting base in Kenya and Nairobi has raised its stature as a regional conference hub.
Besides the above, a number of international hotel brand names are looking to build or partner with local players to set up new facilities in Nairobi, for instance Kempinski Hotels Worldwide (an international hotel chain from Germany) and Accor Hotels of France are just but a few names that have in the recent past shown interest in Kenya.
In Uganda, the New Serena Hotel has made a boost in conferencing tourism in the region. Uganda can now handle a larger magnitude of visitors for conferencing than any time before.
In Tanzania, Arusha houses the East Africa Community which takes a number of visitors from all over the EAC states. Tourism industry players need to tap into the potential of conference tourism.
They can achieve this by:
The players should market all the conference facilities in the country not forgetting Kenya’s good weather that makes it possible to do business or hold conferences all year round.
These facilities, combined with comfortable surrounds, nice accommodation and fine cuisine will enable conference delegates hold a professional and effective conference.
Identifying a sustainable source of funding for tourism development and marketing is critical at this stage, and the Kenya Tourist Board which received Sh400 million, though Sh200 million less than what was allocated last year, should be a starting point.
Compared to other destinations in Africa, the money that Kenya sets aside for tourism marketing is way below par.
Egypt for example spent about Sh 8 billion while South Africa used more than Sh 6.24 billion on tourist market activities and both destinations had impressive arrivals at 13 million and 9.5 million respectively.
Kenya needs to up its game and increase the funding from the current 400 Million for 2009/2010 financial year.
Last year, Kenya Tourism Board received one billion shillings from government and donors for tourism marketing.
The industry might have to depend more on appropriations from donors to sustain their marketing activities.
Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, (KTDC), which gives loans to hotels to carry out soft refurbishments, should increase its funding towards development of conference facilities. KTDC was allocated Sh800 million in the 2009/2010 budget.
Boost domestic tourism
Kenya has a large and growing middle income group that is increasingly travelling and holding conferences.
This should be encouraged, for instance Tembea Kenya Initiative — a public/private initiative aimed at promoting domestic tourism is bearing fruits but needs quite some push to get to a level where it can effectively cushion the industry when foreign tourists are scarce.
The newly created body for the promotion of domestic tourism and the domestic tourism council of Kenya was allocated 10.3 million shillings. These funds should go a long way in improving our domestic tourism.
Develop world-class facilities
These include conference halls and private meeting rooms, audiovisual and multimedia services and telecommunications.
South Africa, Egypt and Morocco are leading in conference tourism because they have conference facilities of international standards and back-up services.
Kenya has its share in conference tourism in the world. Facilities for conferencing in Kenya should be developed and many countries will prefer Kenya as a conference destination.
The Kenyan government should find ways of encouraging international hospitality investment by removing barriers to entry and offering incentives.
The Kenya Investment Authority (KIA) – the agency tasked with marketing Kenya as an investment destination – should emphasize on adding value to conference tourism and invest heavily across all sectors.
Promotion of team building venues
Kenya offers the perfect combination of work and play.
Times outside of the conference room can be spent exploring various team building activities like Rock climbing, water rafting, indoor and outdoor games etc. It’s a better way to develop team strength and bonding.
Some local hotels and establishments have made it big in the conference business.
The Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) has undertaken a total overhaul of conference facilities.
These facilities have enabled KICC to compete effectively in conference tourism.
KICC’s has even been re-admitted to the prestigious International Congress and Convention Centre (ICCA) and this has helped raise the number of international conferences up by 12.4 per cent.
The Sarova Hotels group in light of this has also undertaken major rehabilitation and acquired additional properties which will enable it to attract and retain conference tourism clientele.
Mombasa, with its good weather and many hotels, is an ideal conference venue.
Leisure lodge and Mombasa beach hotel among others have magnificent conference facilities of international standards.
Mwalya is chief accountant, Tribe Hotel, Nairobi