In the past several years I have spent my Christmas in the Kenyan Coast.
This year I spent time to compare various destinations with our coastal region as the benchmark.
To my surprise, it was far much cheaper to spend five days in Dubai than spending three days at our Kenyan coast.
Later I discovered that I was not the only one coming to the Middle East. Instead of Dubai I decided to go to Abu Dhabi.
Here I try to find out why it is less expensive to fly out of the country for holiday than checking in on our own tourist locations.
Ten years ago much of the UAE beaches were virgin lands largely undisturbed. Fewer than 1 million visitors came here.
Today, more than 90 million visitors go through UAE’s main airports, Dubai and Abu Dhabi per year.
Its coastal areas have been expanded by reclaiming more land from the sea while at the same time developing cruise tourism that is attracting close to 500 thousand tourists every year.
Several new Marinas are expanding tourist activities around the waters. New driveways along the beaches allow even the poor to enjoy the sea breeze.
PRICE FOR ALL POCKETS
Large airports have been built not only to create an airline hub for the region, but to allow as many visitors to come to UAE as possible.
Many hotels catering for all budgets have come up pushing hotel revenue from a paltry $100 million in 1994 to more than $8 billion in 2012.
Transport corridors for all people ranging from courtesy buses to luxury drives makes travel in UAE simple and accessible.
New water sports have come up. Large aquariums to show case underwater creatures that we do not normally see have been built.
Formula One race grounds welcome daring tourists to test-drive race cars at a price of Ksh. 30,000 for five minutes. Cars here are booked through end of February in a field that is open for 18 hours a day.
Large shopping malls welcome the lazy tourists who cannot handle adrenaline-sapping sports activities.
There are desert drives to cater for all pockets. From luxury tents to just a drive on the sand filled Arabian Desert.
Golf courses dot the UAE. One can sit and watch a camel race. There are many more sports activities for all. They have simply created an inclusive tourist location by offering many tourist products.
We in Kenya have failed to understand tourism and the tourist. Wrongly, we have focused on animals and the sandy beaches.
The young and active visiting the coastal region have virtually nothing to do other than lazing on the beaches. Someone came up with a stupid policy that we must attract rich tourists who can spend money.
This was myopic. The billionaire club of Briatore come in their jets, eat their own food and leave hardly anything for the country. The centrally poorer tourists fly KQ, and stay in Mwananchi hotels. Whatever little they save for an African tour is virtually left in Africa.
UAE airlines have grown in the backdrop of budget tourists visiting Middle East. Poor or rich tourists, they have helped create some of the largest airlines in Emirates and Etihad.
We have allowed the rich (local and foreign) to hog all the beach plots and using them exclusively when majority of the people share the less than 100 metres of Jomo Kenyatta beach. Do we really want to offer exclusivity on riparian land that is property to all Kenyans?
The world over in coastal areas, beach land is public property to allow anybody to walk or drive and savour the God-given sea breeze.
If this were accessible in Kenya, there is no need for anyone to spend hugely on shoreline hotels. A holiday in the coast will be affordable.
We have been talking about the duty free zones in the coast for ages. Here we need to develop large shopping facilities not just locally, but for the region and help improve tourist products.
These will create outlets for local production especially in jewellery whose raw material is abundant in the Taita Hills.
In the spirit of the EAC, we must now develop cruise tourism between Kenya and Tanzania creating even an expanded relationship to include Madagascar, Re Union, Seychelles, Comoros and even Mauritius.
We need to expand our tourism products to include a Space and Astronomy Centre in Northern Kenya, which gives us a vantage point to explore space from earth that we have never exploited.
Build hotels in and around Rusinga Island with a marina offering daily yacht trips to the famous Migingo Island.
In Kisumu we need water sport activities and a diamond valley leveraging its proximity to the Katanga Province in the Congo and Maseno University that can restructure its courses to offer Gemology.
African voices are known to be strong in Opera. Each University should create a department of music to create new products for tourists in classical music especially in the coastal region and Nairobi.
Meru, Kirinyaga and Nyeri counties should develop new products around Mt. Kenya. Machakos and Makueni counties should look actualize Formula One race course since they were among those wanting to be in Konza City.
In developing these new products, government does not need to invest a coin. What is needed is goodwill and enabling legislation.
We can build an inclusive society if we accept to learn from other countries. Our greatest enemy is greed and ignorance (where some of the rich hold key resources that will unlock our potential).
Being at the Centre of the world, we can only do better.