Governors want to be involved in creation of a national tourism products combination, where a calendar of county events will guide Kenya’s global marketing strategy.
The Council of Governors (CoG) said the multi-million-shilling foreign forays by State agency officials should incorporate their views as managers and hosts of tourist attractions, thereby helping create a unique county specific sub-product that generates local interest and revenue.
The newly elected CoG chairman in charge of Tourism and Wildlife, Mr Samuel Tunai, says various communities in nearly all counties hold annual cultural, sporting and agricultural events that could generate global interest if marketed from a national perspective.
“The Maasai ritual where young men are ushered into moranhood attracts Kenyan and Tanzania teenagers from the community and involves various activities. The Bukusu circumcision fete, Lamu festival, the national athletics selection events and the annual Rhino Charge can generate considerable global interest if put in a national tourism calendar,” he said.
Mr Tunai said it was erroneous for Kenya to market Maasai Mara Game Reserve as a July-August attraction due to the wildebeest migration, saying it was an all-year phenomenon.
“The CoG is targeting to attract two million tourists to sample our different foods, Nairobi cultural nights, beaches, agriculture and wildlife tourism. But that needs co-ordination, where our input is injected into a national tourism combo,” he said.
Mr Tunai said Kenya could benefit immensely if county governments were allowed to present their investment tips to the soon-to-be created tourism product package provided online, where individual tourist facilities and county government tourism departments would market themselves in a complementary manner.
“We have an array of opportunities — from museums, caves, monuments, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, medical facilities, universities, technical colleges as well as national festivals — that could woo tourists with sector specific interests,” said the governor.
Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association chief executive (KWCA) Dickson ole Kaelo said urgent policy changes were necessary to re-align roles by various tourism ministry departments and semi-autonomous agencies that are tasked with marketing Kenya abroad.
“We need to co-ordinate these efforts where we speak the same language on matters tourism. This is the tourism package that should guide our Vision 2030 agenda,” he said.
Saying Kenya needs to reduce reliance on wildlife and beaches to power its products, the KWCA boss said the local economy could benefit immensely if tourists were encouraged to join street festivals where hundreds of Kenyans participate.
According to the Kenya Economic Review, in 2017, about 71.9 per cent of tourists visiting Kenya came for holiday, with most preferring to while away their time in Mombasa, 13.4 per cent were on business trips while 5.3 per cent were in transit to other destinations.
The remaining 9.4 per cent were Kenyans visiting relatives, and foreign nationals seeing friends or for mission purposes.
December records the highest arrivals at 42.9 per cent, followed by August (36.4) and July at 30.7 per cent, giving Kenya’s tourism a seasonal ticket.
Mr Tunai said this could be bettered once all county tourism committees agree on the national calendar of events where they could collaborate in holding events.
“Aggressive marketing is absolutely critical but to be successful, we must target local tourism too, which will act as a bait for foreign tourists keen on investing funds at annual events such as the Maralal International Camel Derby,” he said.
Mr Tunai said inclusion of county governments in the tourism campaign agenda could ease political tensions across the country. Individual counties would also market their regions as safe for travel and investment, compared with the current Nasa-Jubilee tiffs that at times degenerate into violent street demonstrations.
“Tourist numbers dwindle every electioneering year due to the war of words between political leaders. This is part of what we will discuss at the national level with a view to getting a permanent solution,” he said.
About 1.3 million international arrivals were registered in 2016, where Sh100 billion was spent locally, compared with Sh85 billion spent by 1.18 million tourists in 2015.
Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that visitors increased by 10.7 per cent in the first five months of 2017, backed by increased meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.
Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu, Buffalo Springs, Shaba, Lake Baringo, Lake Turkana, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Nairobi National Park were among the most popular, together with private sanctuaries.
“If we plan well as a nation, we have no reason why Kenya cannot beat Israel, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt or any other country in terms of visitors,” said Mr Tunai.