Kenya could triple earnings from tourism by overhauling its marketing strategy where a calendar of cultural and county events form the specialty menu presented to the world.
Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association chief executive (KWCA) Dickson Ole Kaelo said there was urgent need to initiate policy changes that re-align roles by various State agencies and departments tasked with marketing Kenya abroad with emphasis on individual county brands.
“The world would really want to intermingle with Kenyans during cultural events. The Lamu Swahili Festival with its donkey and canoe races, Bukusu traditional circumcision ceremonies, the Maasai Moran activities that attract Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai youths, the Maralal Camel Derby and athletic events among others, form a rich menu that would help Kenya define its homegrown products away from the usual wildlife and beach products,” he said.
While the 2017 Economic Review showed Kenya earned Sh100 billion from 1.3 million tourists who visited the country in 2016, Mr Kaelo said the nation must stop relying on wildlife and beach-goers to power its billion-shilling tourism sector as this generally benefits the rich and not locals.
“Redefine our strategy to make it homegrown and give it an identity that attracts thousands of domestic tourists. That is the catch for international tourists keen on intermingling with people. Food and our rudimentary rituals can triple our tourism numbers all year round instead of the seasonal “take we have,” he said.
Mr Kaelo said Kenya could also entrench a new thinking where further construction of lodges and eco-camps within national parks and reserves, is permanently banned in favour of tourist hotels outside the facilities.
“Wildlife sanctuaries should become just that, a natural home for wild animals that remains untouched and human activities within the park are controlled.
This could re-invigorate nightlife in our towns where tourists dance away the evening creating a 24-hour economy among local communities living next to national parks,” he said.
Mr Kaelo, who was involved in creation of Olare Orok, Motorogi, Mara North and Naboisho Conservancies in the Mara, said a new way should be found to help communities living within wildlife-rich regions to benefit from the proceeds of tourism as a way of winning them over to supporting conservation efforts.
He said the country needs to adopt policies that help sustain livelihoods, improve the environment within areas they operate from while enabling companies to make profits from their ventures.
“We have done it for the 155 wildlife community conservancies and we are promoting a new offering that creates a more diversified menu. Kenya should not be just about wildlife and beaches,” he said.
The conservancies host 142 camps and eco-lodges boasting 2,463 beds and provide employment to 2,211 community wildlife scouts.
Mr Kaelo said such empowerment could permanently address conflict between next-door neighbours in wildlife-rich areas reducing incidents where wild animals destroy crops, maim or kill people or residents trespass into wildlife sanctuaries in search of food or game trophies.
While he hailed the 17.8 per cent growth in tourism earnings, the KWCA boss said the country must shield domestic tourism from vagaries of election chaos that have in the past affected visitor arrivals. The best way to achieve this, he said, is by promoting local tourism.
Currently, 71.9 per cent of tourists visit Kenya for holiday with most preferring to while away their time in Mombasa, 13.4 per cent were on a business trip while 5.3 per cent passed through Kenya to other destinations.
The remaining 9.4 per cent were Kenyans visiting relatives and foreign nationals visiting friends or for mission purposes.
The cycle in Kenya’s tourim is seasonal with December having the highest arrivals at 42.9 per cent followed by August (36.4) and July at 30.7 per cent.
Interestingly, conference tourism has shown resilience with 227 international conferences held in 2016 that were attended by 101,600 delegates up from 218 meetings that attracted 71,620 people in 2015.
At the same time the domestic front saw 532,600 delegates attend 3,755 conferences, being a 9.2 per cent rise indicating the need to locally market existing tourism facilities with conference halls and boardrooms for large groups of delegates.
Mr Kaelo said experiences from their 155 members drawn from community, group and private conservancies in 27 counties that manage 6.3 million hectares showed that pasture management also helped ease pressure on pastures as well as conflict among local communities as water and pastures were available in abundance.
The members also formulated a controlled formula where locally based management committees arbitrated over arising issues over pastures as well as investing tourism funds in community driven projects.