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Kenya bets on retirees to push tourism earnings above Sh200bn

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Kenya has been aggressive in marketing itself to the world. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya plans to reform entry rules and living packages for retirees who opt to spent holidays in the country as it seeks to push annual tourism earnings above Sh200 billion.

Tourists in ages of between 25 and 44 made up 59 percent of visitors to Kenya, but the Ministry of Tourism says there is an unexploited potential among the retiring class who are looking for destinations for their sunset years.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala says even though visitors above 55 years account for only 12 percent of total visitors, the age bracket carries hope for more earnings.

“This is the biggest potential that people have ignored. These are people who have their pension and want a place where they can spent their money,” says Mr Balala.

“We want to create a facility in Kenya which can encourage retirees to come. These are people who come to spend their pension and not to take our jobs.”

The ministry wants to develop a policy by end of the year which will guide in selling Kenya as an attractive destination for retirees.

Data from the Tourism ministry shows that 63 percent of the total 2,048,834 tourists that arrived in Kenya last year came for holiday while only 13.5 percent came for business.

This means majority of tourists see Kenya as a destination for relaxing, sampling food and places. And unlike the young tourists who are bound by work, retirees travel year-round, helping ease out low seasons.

Top on Kenya’s radar for retiree tourists will be markets such as the US, UK, India, China, Germany, France and Italy. All these were among the top 10 source markets for the country.

Currently, retirees only get a three-month tourist visa to Kenya, but hotels such as Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa say there are many tourists expressing interest in longer stays.

The Tourism ministry says extending this stay to about six months can give the visitors more fun and hand Kenya more earnings.

Kenya’s tourism earnings grew by 3.9 percent to Sh163.6 billion last year as arrivals defied terror threats and global geopolitics to remain above the two-million mark. Mr Balala says an earning above Sh200 billion is within sight.

But with several tourists in retirement age seeking adventure as well as medical attention, Kenya must also make itself a destination where this cocktail is served.

“We have to check if a retiree at 75 will have a proper insurance cover and hospitals for their health. That will also mean having fun destinations that are closer to medical evacuation facilities,” points Mr Balala.

Apart from destinations such as Mombasa, Nairobi attracts more of visitors who are just on transit to other countries. This has seen Kenya lose revenue to other destinations in the region.

The National Treasury says it is ready to increase the allocation for tourism so as to push up earnings through aggressive marketing and deepen diversity of products away from wildlife.

“We also need to look at our visa application period and charges so that we stop it from being a deterrent to the entry of visitors,” Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani observes.

Senior tourists put comfort as top priority and are willing to pay for it. They want easy and comfortable travel style to new destinations that give them fresh experiences.

This calls for destinations that can guarantee one-stop experiences so that they don’t fly too much in search of fun in piecemeal.

According to Virtuoso, a UK- based international travel agency network specialising in luxury and experiential travel, retirees spend more on travel than any other generation.

The agency says the older tourists spend an average of Sh1.11 million ($11,077) a year. This is higher than the pre-retirement visitors who are deemed to be more budget conscious.

Virtuoso says travel spending is lowest in the 30s, as people are building careers and families. Spending only starts rising in the 40s and in the early 50s and drops briefly between 55 and 59 years to fund college fees or firm up retirement savings.

Kenya will also be counting on the aviation sector to attract more tourists. France, a country that had 14 percent growth in visitors to 54,979 for instance has direct flights to Kenya.

Air France last year increased flights frequency between Nairobi and Paris from three to five weekly. This helped boost tourism as did Kenya Airways direct flights between Nairobi and US, which helped arrivals grow by nine percent to 245,437.

Kenya has been aggressive in marketing itself to the world through travel trade road shows in the UK, India, US and China. It has also organised online global consumer campaigns on online travel agencies such as Zoo and on international media houses such as CNN.

But even as Kenya, pushes for increased tourist numbers, several challenges such as insecurity, political tensions and slow adoption of technology stand in the way.

Mr Balala agrees that the advantage of repeat clientele is dropping. People want new experiences and that means continuous improvement.

A 2018 research by ABTA, a UK travel trade association for tour operators and travel agents, says a taste for alternative destinations is on a rise as people go off the beaten track in search for new and unusual experiences.

“Over a quarter (27 percent) of holidaymakers are planning to visit a country they have never been to before and almost a third (32 percent) are expecting to visit a new resort or city,” the report notes.

This calls for Kenyan hotels to get more innovative with things such as food. Many tourists, especially the old, want food that is both healthy and delicious.