Royal wedding: Kenya lost a great opportunity to sell her attractions

Sunday May 8 2011


Like the estimated two billion people around the globe who had nothing better to do on a Friday than to watch a royal wedding, I too stayed glued to my TV set for more than three hours to watch the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

Thirty years ago, I did the same when Prince William’s parents exchanged vows of eternal love (and we all know how that turned out!) and here I was doing it again — waiting with bated breath to see a royal bride marry a British prince.

I was one among millions who have developed a fascination with the British monarchy and all the pomp that goes with it.

Not many people bother watching a Swedish or Indian royal wedding. Why this fascination with British royal weddings?

Some people might say that it is because much of the world has at some point been connected to Britain through its Empire and therefore relates to the British monarchy.

Others might say that it’s because British weddings are more spectacular than most others.

But I have another theory, and it is that Britain has capitalised on the world’s fascination with its monarchy and turned it into economic opportunity.

From a purely marketing perspective, British royal weddings are a roaring success. Almost every international news channel abandoned regular programming to air the ceremony.

TV anchors and reporters spent days preparing interviews with people associated with the wedding. Bookies placed bets on everything, including the colour of Queen Elizabeth’s outfit on the day of the wedding.
For top designers of shoes, clothes, hats and other accessories, the royal wedding was a godsend. Every single woman invited to the wedding had a dress tailor-made for her.

Jewellers too experienced a boom — sales of replicas of the sapphire and diamond engagement ring worn by Ms Middleton have soared since the couple announced their engagement.

Retailers selling souvenirs of the royal wedding also profited, as did bars, restaurants and other entertainment places in London.

In terms of tourism, the wedding did wonders for the country as tourists from Canada, Australia, even Colombia and Peru, made a special trip to London for the event.

And let’s not forget the media, which probably raked in millions of pounds in advertising on that day.

Critics may argue that British royal weddings are ostentatious and wasteful, especially in a time of recession and cutbacks, but I am convinced that a royal wedding is exactly what Britain needed to boost its economy.

Unfortunately, Kenya failed to see the huge marketing and tourism potential of the jamboree.

While the world now knows that Prince William proposed to his girlfriend Kate Middleton in Kenya, at Lewa Downs, to be precise — a 65,000 acre private ranch in Laikipia — Kenya’s tourism industry did not make any special arrangements to attract royalty watchers.

It did not sell the country as one being fit for a royal engagement. Those two billion viewers may have a vague idea of Kenya as a land of safaris, but we did not woo them to the country by marketing it as romantic destination favoured by British royals.

This kind of short-sightedness is the reason why countries such as South Africa become the preferred holiday destination of the high-end tourism market.

Just last week, I saw a commercial marketing Egypt (yes, Egypt which just witnessed a turbulent revolution!).

Someone very clever in Egypt’s tourism sector realised that the intense media focus on events in the country in recent months could be turned into a marketing opportunity.

All those Facebook and Twitter addicts could be lured into seeing, not just Tahrir Square, but the pyramids as well.

Yet Kenya has so much more to offer. It is physically stunning, its hospitality industry is well-developed, its people are friendly, it has a large variety of geographical features — mountains, savannahs, lakes, deserts and an ocean.

It has attracted not just the British royal family, but movie stars and other celebrities as well.

Kenya’s tourism sector has even failed to attract sports enthusiasts. Our runners are the best in the world, but I have yet to see a commercial luring marathon-lovers to training grounds in the Rift Valley.