Promote tourism or pass up next boom


Foreign tourist at a beach in Diani. FILE PHOTO | NMG



  • Kenya is often cited as the second most popular safari destination, after upmarket Botswana.
  • But rising nations are Namibia, Mozambique and even our neighbour Rwanda.

A headline in the UK Times declared: Sunseekers hoping for end to Covid lockdown pencil in foreign holidays. Cooped up, locked in, shops closed, many Europeans are dreaming of their next big holiday.

For, with another day ahead of life in the front room, maybe on a laptop at the kitchen table in the grand daily journey from the bedroom to another room, and as winter temperatures freeze all outside, the appeal of holiday dreaming is huge. Buyers are studying beaches, hotels and the options at destinations they might have wanted to get to for a lifetime, and now, boxed in, they are preparing to buy.

Only not to Kenya, of course. For Magical Kenya has mired itself. First off, there was the dispute about its ambassador, though I may just throw a spanner in that. For, in marketing we have a thing called our target audience. And its not what appeals to us on the inside that drives sales, but what appeals to that audience.

Our foreign tourist market knows Naomi Campbell far better than they know Lupita Nyong’o, albeit Lupita is an amazing and wonderful actress, and they associate Naomi with glamour of the highest order.

I know I’m not supposed to say that. For some people, everything is always about where you were born. But if a Kenyan beach holiday is about glamour, Naomi is it, where Lupita is a more intellectual and socially motivated actress.

Yet even the dispute over our holiday ambassador is as nothing to the decision to simply slash and even stop the marketing. So now, as our locked-up Europeans and Americans head to holiday reviews and sites, blogs and booking services, guess what, other nations are promoting themselves. And as their images hit the laptop screens, they aren’t holding back for Kenya’s sake.

For Kenya is often cited as the second most popular safari destination, after upmarket Botswana. But rising nations are Namibia, Mozambique and even our neighbour Rwanda. So, as we stop, what are they doing to capture that purchase-decision-making foreign tourist?

Very ironically from a Kenyan perspective, Mozambique is selling itself with the slogan of “come to where it all started” presenting itself as the birthplace of humankind. For me, that doesn’t quite have the appeal of Amazing Thailand, or Wonderful Indonesia. It’s more akin to “It’s more fun in the Philippines”as a not-so-emotionally-inspirational slogan.

I prefer Papua New Guinea’s A Million Different Moments, or Japan’s Endless Discovery.

But Magical Kenya? Whoever coined that one, they captured a big spread of marketing options with powerful emotional appeal — it’s fabulous. For who doesn’t want a dose of magic from the winter-laden kitchen-table lock in? A long vista of beach, a gliding dhow, a gazelle, or a leopard, lakes, flamingos, coral reefs, that view down the enormous Rift Valley: our nation truly is as magical as a country could conceivably be. Even just the sound of a zebra munching grass at sunset in the wilds of Meru Park.

All of which we won’t be mentioning or promoting this Covid/post-Covid 2021, because moving our third largest industry down the international rankings is our decision now.

For who needs that money, those bookings, the footfall? Not us, apparently. True, they are not here now, while they are forbidden from travelling for holidays, but they will be back soon, with even the most stringest lockdowns looking at resuming foreign holidays by May — so that’s 10 weeks away. For big-spend holidays that buyers normally book months ahead. Yet we’re packing up promotion.

But there it is: we’re broke. And just like any business that eventually closes because it couldn’t afford any marketing, won less sales, fired more staff, which meant less delivery, or left people without supplies or even a computer, or power, our nation, it seems, is moving into a selected and now deliberate decline.

I hope they can come together to spread the budget and drive hard into cost-effective and brilliant marketing.