Kenya's tourism sector to cash in on ex-US President Obama’s visit from 2019

Bobby Kamani
NAIROBI, KENYA: In 2015, Pope Francis and President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya was a great marketing story for international tourism into Kenya. The effects of this international interest in Kenya, were however, only felt a year later with arrivals into the country increasing. 

As a former President, Obama visited Kenya in July with a powerful delegation which included philanthropists, diplomats, lawyers, celebrities and friends to the Obama family.

We can expect to see continued and increased interest in Kenya from the international markets similar to the outcome of the 2015 visit, by seeing a positive variance in arrivals into the country in 2019. For now, it would be wise for our hoteliers to continue with their efforts in attracting more local and regional travelers to their properties.

Kenya’s tourism products continue to attract visitors from across the globe, however most Kenyans, due to an inherent lack of knowledge, have not had the opportunity to tour major attractions in the country.

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Travel is still perceived as a ‘luxury’ for the ever growing middle class even though numerous affordable destinations across the nation have been widely accessible since independence. Domestic tourism, in this respect, needs to be developed.

Increasing consumerism amongst Kenya’s growing middle class and the ‘millennial traveler’ together with the heightened awareness / appreciation for travel as a rejuvenating and educational experience are amongst the key factors for the rise in domestic tourism in the country.

Sports events, cultural and music festivals, conferences, inexpensive medical tourism and affordable destination weddings are all gaining momentum in the Kenyan market. Improvements in general infrastructure, innovation in the banking sector (through the introduction of new products that facilitate easier payment options) and positive involvement from the local media houses (through responsible journalism) are all factors that are not only educating the domestic traveler, but also making tourism more accessible and more affordable.

The efforts of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) to provide data on domestic and regional tourism cannot go unnoticed. KTB’s endeavours have been hampered by the lack of a functioning regulatory framework which would ensure that the required industry stakeholders provide accurate data and relevant information.

Functional tourism frameworks can be developed if transparency by industry stakeholders is made compulsory as a necessary pre–requisite to operate as a tourism product or service in Kenya. The Tourism Regulatory Authority can implement this as one of the key criteria when classifying properties across the country. For now, KTB unfortunately has to rely on hotel bed occupancy records alone to determine domestic tourism growth. KTB is working diligently alongside the Ministry of Tourism to improve on domestic tourism data including its actual contribution to the industry.

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Word of mouth ranks top on sources of domestic travel information. Word of mouth, online reviews and social media travel influencers have become the most important sources of travel information. According to a study conducted by Consumer Options, 67.3 per cent of respondents get their travel information from friends and family while 50.3 per cent of respondents rely on the internet for travel information. It is understood that the most common internet sources of information are Facebook and Instagram at 59.7 per cent and 28.6 per cent respectively.

There is a rising need for hotel owners and tour operators to design products and packages for the emerging group of domestic millennial travelers who may not be as keen on luxury as compared to convenience, budget and flexibility.

The current millennial traveler is very clear about what they are looking for - usually fun and adventure. It is therefore very important for providers to mark up their facilities accordingly if they want to capture this growing market within Kenya. This group of travelers are the future of the industry and therefore any brand keen on building loyalty must be ready to accommodate them and grow with them.

As for now, let us look forward to the visit of Obama and his prestigious delegation to Kenya – but let’s not forget to keep our eye on the ball and take utmost advantage of what is right in front of us – the domestic travelers and the millennials.

Bobby Kamani, Managing Director, Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa

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