Imagine if, while spending millions of shillings on beautiful television advertisements, Safaricom never bothered to upgrade its network beyond Edge, or install new masts. Or if Kenya Breweries, despite all its slick marketing, stuck to Tusker Lager and never branched out to Tusker Lite, or Malt.
No smart organisation aiming to grow in today’s demanding markets fails to grasp the critical importance of investing not just in advertising and promotion, but in the product itself.
But that’s exactly what is happening to Kenya’s tourism industry (including domestic tourism), which supplies one in every Sh10 in the national economy earns annually and directly or indirectly provides one in every 10 Kenyans with their daily bread.
The Treasury allocated the Tourism ministry Sh4.5 billion for ‘promotional activities’ this year, adding to Sh5.2 billion it was handed the year before. And it is working: that marketing helped drive an increase of international visitors of 13.5 per cent between 2015 and 2016, to more than 1.3 million.
Yet in this country where Sh75 in every Sh100 spent on tourism is spent on wildlife safaris, only roughly Sh2.2 billion was set aside for the Kenya Wildlife Service. Conservancies, the areas hosting more than 70 per cent of our wild animals, receive virtually nothing from Treasury. The scheme to pay compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed by wildlife is also woefully under-resourced, making enemies of animals who could be seen as valuable assets.
Seeing these figures, and noting that we have just celebrated the World Tourism Day, I argue it is time for an urgent rethink about how we protect one of our country’s leading golden-egg-laying geese. If we can’t bring more money to conservation, we risk running into the ground the very thing people come here to see, and one of our most important foreign exchange earners.
We also risk something more personal to all of us. Many Kenyans might read this and think, ‘Why waste effort and good money sustaining an industry that might earn the government lots of revenue, but has little to do with my life’?
But if that’s your viewpoint, you’re missing out on a quiet revolution taking place across the country. Our wildlife and our landscapes, our forests and our clean rivers, our mountains, our deserts, and our coastline, all of this is our national heritage. And that is something an increasing number of us are beginning to appreciate, and value, and want to protect for our children, and their children.
Close to 61 per cent of the Sh682 billion that travel and tourism pumped into the Kenyan economy in 2016 was spent by Kenyans not foreigners, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
An increasing number of Kenyans are beginning to enjoy our country’s natural beauty, joining the millions of overseas visitors who have been coming for that very reason for decades. Are we destined to come to value all of this very deeply just at the point that the money dries up to preserve it? I think not.
I think we have the solution: an endowment fund capitalised with more than Sh20 billion earning huge amounts of interest from international investment markets that could be spent on conservation projects.
By the middle of 2018, the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund will be operational, its assets being invested globally. By Christmas next year, we expect it to start paying out new money to support conservation projects that drive benefits to society, as well as to tourism.
It is an idea that has the full support of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the board and management of KWS, and a growing line of international investors keen to sign up to help protect Kenya's world-beating natural assets.
The only group missing in that crowd is Kenya's own entrepreneurs, corporate giants, and philanthropic institutions.
Munira Anyonge is Kenya country director, The Nature Conservancy.