Selfie-taking and younger tourists are driving a surge in the number of visitors to game parks and museums.
The number of visitors to snake parks last year more than doubled to 403,700 from 160,700 in 2021, a growth attributed mainly to the reopening of museums and heritage sites following their closure for six months in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Museums visits are, however lower at 990,200 visits recorded in 2019 compared to over 1.5 million people that visited national parks and game reserves.
Caroline Mwenda, National Museums of Kenya head of marketing, attributes the growth in numbers to a rise in domestic tourism and interest from locals in heritage matters.
“Interesting for families, children have been asking questions and their parents, in turn, look for a place where they can answer those questions,” Ms Mwenda says.
“Another interesting factor is Instagram. We have seen an increase in the youths coming into the museums. Because we are an Instagrammable space. You find the youth coming to take pictures and we welcome them coming to take selfies. When they are in the museums, we believe they also learn something. For us it is not what brings them but the fact that they are in the space and they will learn about their heritage.”
Visitors to Kisumu National Museum increased four times to 52,800 while those to Nairobi National Museum rose three times to 102,600 from about 35,200 in 2021.
Visitors to Fort Jesus more than doubled to 101,600 in the review period.
Over 25 museums are curated differently inside the gallery spaces and outside.
The significance of Kenyan art and heritage is undeniably increasing as major museums make up for the lost time. National Museum of Kenya (NMK), for instance, has external spaces with cultural crafts such as stone carvers, metalwork fabricators, a botanical medicinal garden, and a nature trail.
“All these are to encourage us to celebrate our heritage, culture, and art. We have art going back to 5,000 years,” Ms Mwenda adds.
“Internal spaces of different galleries celebrate different themes. There is the Hall of Kenya, celebrating what Kenya is all about from kiondos, musical instruments, hall of mammals showing their different types of movements, the way they eat and their defence mechanisms.”
National museums are the largest art collectors and holders in Kenya. As a result, NMK has proposed to put up a National Art Gallery that will hold some of these paintings, crafts, murals, and mosaics.
Other museums have homesteads such as Bomas, Kitale, and Kapenguria.
“We try to showcase our heritage and ethnicity in beautiful ways. We have partnered with theatre groups who re-enact what happens in such homesteads. So it allows both domestic and international tourists to experience lifestyles of our ethnic communities,” she adds.
The museums also showcase how cultures celebrated events of birth, initiation, and marriage to final resting and modernity.
This also includes the history of Kenyan from the time of migration, the fight for independence and juakali sector.
The museums have collaborated with institutions such as the Central Bank of Kenya to showcase historical ways of trading and means of exchange like the use of cowrie shells, coins and change of the currencies from the time of East Indian Company to the Imperial British East Africa Company to new currency notes.
The museums which are major players in the tourism industry have also partnered with Google on Google Arts and Culture, allowing people across the world to explore collections in museums and galleries from the comfort of their digital devices.
The Nairobi National Museum last year held the Invisible Inventories exhibition in partnership with Goethe-Institut, to repatriate Kenyan artefacts that are in foreign museums.
The museums including National Museum, Gedi, Kisumu and Kitale have snake parks that Ms Mwenda says are being used for education and research on the development of anti-venom.