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How Kenya can tap energy tourism to attract more visitors

geothermal

Steam emitted from the geothermal well in Olkaria. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya receives hundreds of thousands of tourists annually, peaking during the festive season.

The allure of Kenya, often intertwined with Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions (MICE), and captivating safaris, has consistently earned the country recognition as a premier African tourism destination, as endorsed by the World Travel Awards (WTA).

In November this year, Nairobi clinched the title of the top city to visit in 2024, according to Lonely Planet, a United States-based travel agency. While our pristine beaches, MICE offerings, and awe-inspiring safaris continue to be the flag bearers of Kenya's tourism sector, there are untapped areas, such as energy tourism, that merit exploration.

This calls for a strategic review by industry stakeholders to unlock the opportunities within this sector and amplify returns from energy investments. Energy tourism, categorised under industrial tourism, encompasses visits to facilities like electricity generating plants, hydroelectric dams, and renewable energy sites.

A recent study, Energy and Industrial Tourism: A Specific Niche in the Tourism Market, projects energy tourism to be the fastest-growing niche in adventure and industrial tourism. From the scenic Turkwel to the magical Olkaria steam fields and the expansive Seven Forks scheme, Kenya stands poised to bolster its tourism industry, attract foreign investment, and underscore its leadership in green energy.

The Kenya Tourism Board's (KTB) latest report reveals that international arrivals surged to 847,810 in the first half of 2023, compared to 642,861 similar period in 2022. While leisure, visiting friends and family, business travel, and MICE dominate, embracing energy tourism can enrich tourists' understanding of both tourism and energy sustainability.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism industry has enhanced its carbon efficiency by nearly 20 percent in the last decade.

Developing energy tourism as a niche provides an avenue to prioritise sustainable and energy-efficient travel options, including wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar energy.

KenGen has already taken the lead in energy tourism by establishing the largest geothermal spa in Africa, adjacent to its geothermal power stations in Olkaria. This facility, a by-product of geothermal power generation, has attracted close to a million visitors.

Countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have seen tourism trends shaped by the growing demand for energy tourism. Similar initiatives in Kenya can significantly impact emerging tourism sectors and promote energy literacy and renewable energy development.

Increased investments in energy tourism can lead to sustainable energy development within the tourism sector, attracting foreign investments in the energy field. As globalisation and industrialisation continue, energy tourism presents a promising avenue for growth.

Energy tourism addresses the global need for energy literacy, aligning with efforts to meet the escalating demand for energy worldwide. The benefits extend to local economies, fostering energy literacy, promoting energy research, and encouraging sustainable behaviour to combat climate change.

The writer is the managing director and CEO of KenGen PLC

Email: md&[email protected]