Of course the government should get rid of terrorists, improve security and have the negative travel advisories lifted, but we need to do much more to woo tourists to Kenya.
Kenya has 6.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the same as the world’s average, yet Kenya has the least number of visitors of any tourist destination — 2.5 tourists per 100,000 inhabitants.
Kenya is 10 times safer than New Orleans, which has 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 inhabitants, yet New Orleans recorded 9.28 million tourists in 2013. Washington DC has 19 gun murders per 100,000, but recorded 1.8 million overseas visitors.
Jamaica ranked number five as the country with the most murders in the world — 40 murders per 100,000, and this small island with a population of 2.75 million people received more than 3 million tourists in 2011.
Closer home, South Africa has five times as many murders as Kenya — 31 per 100,000 inhabitants, yet it received 9.6 million foreign tourists. Cape Town, the world’s 14th most dangerous city in the world, with 60 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, was even voted the best global city in The Daily Telegraph’s annual Travel Awards.
Kenya is much safer than South Africa, has a friendlier population, better weather, better wildlife, and better beaches. So, why does South Africa attract 10 times more tourists than Kenya?
There are perceptions about Kenya that are negative and wrong. These include allegations that Kenya is dangerous, very hot, has Ebola, that Kenyans speak only Kiswahili, and that you cannot play golf in Kenya.
We need market research, which should ask what perceptions long haul travellers have of our beautiful country. Only after we know how potential tourists think about Kenya can we start designing creative long-term marketing and advertising campaigns that will make people say how nice Kenya and Kenyans are, how safe our country is, how fantastic our weather is, that Kenyans speak English, that you can play golf in Kenya, and that they want to go to Kenya. Yearly research would measure how perceptions change so that the campaigns can be amended accordingly.
Kenya has many positives. It has no earthquakes, major floods, avalanches, tsunamis, heat waves, snow storms, erupting volcanoes, typhoons, or hurricanes.
Kenya has an educated, naturally friendly English speaking population, the best weather conditions in the world, 40 golf courses, culture, mountains, rafting, athletics, bird viewing, fishing, besides fantastic wildlife viewing and super beaches.
Tourism is labour-intensive, so it is a significant source of employment. It has a multiplier effect and benefits many other players including farmers, fishermen, taxi drivers, traders, manufacturers, handicraft workers, supermarkets, oil companies, caddies, restaurants, and museums.
Tourists bring in foreign exchange and the drop in the value of the Kenyan shillings in the past two years is for a large part contributable to the fall in tourist numbers. The platform for new creative advertising campaigns should be through market research. Kenya must invest more in tourism.
Mr Cohen is the owner of Tobs Kenya Golf Safaris, Travel & Events. [email protected]