Jacinta Nzioka, Marketing Director of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), yesterday presented KTB’s immediate outlook and focus to participants of the Hotel Summit East Africa 2014 in a session which generated much interest.
Still stunned from the negative anti-travel advisory by Britain earlier in the week, which saw UK tour operators almost instantly fly out their tourists over safety concerns, did delegates learn that over the past years had the percentage of visitors from Europe declined overall in favor of significant rises in arrivals from new and emerging markets like China, Russia, India and notably also from Africa, areas KTB now intends to give greater prominence in their promotional activities.
Kenya Airways will later this year launch additional flights to China with Shanghai and Beijing coming on line as new destinations, and is also eyeing more destinations in India, allowing for greater numbers of visitors to come to Kenya. RwandAir now connects 5 West African destinations to Kigali and flies from there to Mombasa, allowing for packages to be marketed across their network, as does Air Uganda fly from Entebbe nonstop to Mombasa, too.
It was learned that the three participating East African countries of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya will shortly launch a new preferential Visa for expatriates living in the neighboring countries to encourage more of them to come to the beaches of Mombasa and Malindi, visit the gorillas in Rwanda or take a river safari in Murchisons Falls National Park / Uganda, but no details on cost have been mentioned yet. The East African Tourism Platform, the private sector umbrella body for East Africa’s tourism associations, has already lobbied for such Visa to be given free of cost to such expatriates holding work or residence permits in any of the member states, a move which could provide an immediate travel boost by such a target group from say Rwanda and Uganda to Mombasa.
“People who live and work in the region have a better understanding of the present challenges Kenya has. There are periodic incidents in the region and none of them will just cut and run like the Brits just did when they pulled their tourists out of Mombasa. Besides, from what we know they are money wise and right now they cannot get any better bargains to fly to Mombasa and stay at a beach resort. If the Visa fee for them goes away, I am sure that the number of regional travelers can rise very quickly. They will not make up for the loss of the Brits but it will help. KTF held a press briefing in the morning at the Norfolk and they have been candid this time to tell government what they have to do. For one, let them stop their plans to merge KTB and listen for once to us stakeholders. They keep promising that enabling environment but we do not see much enabling so far. The perhaps only upside of the British move is that it is a wakeup call for our government and a reminder to listen to us and take us seriously. They have not done that so far and the word lip service in the KTF statement was in fact very mild. They talked to us with forked tongues that must stop here and now. Like you said in response to Jacinta, Kenya has always come back from downturns. This one is deeper than anything ever seen so far but we are confident that we can turn the tide eventually. For that the private sector has to come together and the public sector has to facilitate, fund KTB and restructure the tourism parastatals under one body, give us one dedicated ministry to correct where they have gone wrong over the past year’ said one participant in the hotel summit before hastily adding ‘But please do not print my name” – request granted of course.
The Kenyan government has already promised some 200 million Kenya shillings to support recovery marketing in existing markets and roll out an aggressive campaign in other markets which hold promise to fill empty beds at the Kenya coast, in the city of Nairobi and across the national parks in lodges and safari camps, a move welcomed by the private sector with the rider that much more has to be spent to allow for a truly global campaign countering the impact of travel advisories and subsequent bad press.
Said this correspondent when the question was posed to him as one of the presenters: “It is important for Kenya to build coalitions and partner with people and institutions of goodwill. Regional and global travel media are such a target group, sympathetic mainstream media too, both print and electronic. The airlines need to be brought on board, those flying to Kenya already, and those who might want to fly to Kenya in the future. Airlines need certain logistics to be put into place and traffic rights, including the controversial fifth freedom rights, or cabotage rights say from Nairobi to Mombasa, could help to attract some more major players to fly here. It takes a holistic approach to bring all key elements on board in order to succeed. Conventional charters are losing their importance now that the Gulf giants literally offer a one stop flight solution to Kenya through their hubs in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Attractive fares would have many more travelers opt to fly with them to Mombasa, when traffic rights are approved, and Mauritius and Seychelles are proof that it works big time. They have both no charters coming to Port Louis or Mahe and yet scheduled flights bring growing tourist numbers year after year to the Seychelles. Mombasa therefore could benefit from a shift in regulatory aviation policy.”
For now, Kenya does have a fight at hand for tourist visitors and to retain and increase market share in key markets but there is an almost steely will emerging among leading stakeholders to fight the odds and win back the hearts and minds of their former faithful.