The World Tourism & Travel Council (WTTC) has awarded Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Mr Najib Balala as the 2019 Global Champion Award for Social Impact.
The award ceremony took place on Tuesday in Seville, Spain during the WTTC Global Summit.
Kenya's First lady, Margaret Kenyatta was among dignitaries who attended the event.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife expressed its delight at the award.
''The annual WTTC Global Champion Awards recognise public officials or countries who, through their leadership, have made a difference through unique public policies and initiatives that have increased the competitiveness of the sector within their countries,'' the statement said.
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The WTTC Global Champion Award for Social Impact recognises leadership in enabling gender equality and diversity; engaging local communities and making the sector more attractive for future generations.
CS Balala was in 2017 re-appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
This was the third time he was being entrusted with the tourism docket, due to his vast knowledge and experience in this field; plus, added the responsibility of taking care of Kenya’s national heritage of wildlife.
CS Balala is currently the longest-serving Minister in the Kenyan Cabinet, with thirteen (13) of experience as a Minister serving in different portfolios – eight (8) of which in the Tourism sector.
The Kenya Coast Tourism Working Group chairman, Mr Hosnain Noorani who is also the Group Managing Director for Pride Inn Group of Hotels commended Balala's latest recognition and termed it as a plus for Kenyan tourism.
''While we commend CS Balala for the historic achievement, we remain optimistic that Kenyan tourism is on the road to full recovery,'' he said.
Also saluting Balala's acknowledgement by WTTC was Managing Director of the award-winning Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa, Mr Bobby Kamani who said that the recognition by WTTC on CS Balala marked a big milestone in Kenya's tourism industry.
''Balala has been instrumental in leading Kenyan tourism out of the woods after years of underperforming,'' Kamani said.
Industry analysts said that Balala has played a significant role in boosting growth and stability in the Kenyan and regional tourism sector, working closely with private and institutional investors, with conservation and regional development agencies to ensure that the economic potential of this vital sector was both prudently and sustainably-managed.
This was best exemplified by the recording-setting tourism performance in 2018 of over 2 million international arrivals, which was endorsed by President & CEO of WTTC, Ms. Gloria Guevara in Nairobi, where she symbolically released the WTTC Economic Impact Research 2019 for Africa recently.
In 2018, Travel & Tourism grew 5.6% to contribute KSHS 790 billion and 1.1 million jobs to the Kenyan economy.
This rate of growth is faster than the global average of 3.9% and the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 3.3%.
This makes Kenya the third largest tourism economy in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa and Nigeria, both of which grew substantially less than Kenya in 2018.
In total, international tourists spent over Sh157 billion in Kenya last year, accounting for over 15% of total exports. The largest inbound international markets were the USA (11%); UK (9%); India (6%); China (4%); and Germany (4%). Combined with domestic spending, Travel & Tourism supported 8.8% of the nation’s GDP in 2018.
''CS Balala is focused on improving and modernizing Kenya’s wildlife conservation sector, under the banner KENYANS FOR WILDFLIFE & WILDLIFE FOR KENYANS, since it has a direct impact on the tourism sector – of which 70% is wildlife-based,'' added the statement. Thus, wildlife is key to the success of our tourism sector.
Upon receiving the award, Balala said, “This award is not only a win for the Ministry, tourism and wildlife sectors but is also an endorsement of Magical Kenya’s efforts to make tourism, wildlife sustainable and ensure that both directly benefits our local communities, who are the custodians and stewards of both our tourism and wildlife resources.”
Gloria Guevara, President & CEO, WTTC commented, “Travel & Tourism is a sector which is proven to drive economic growth, create jobs and boost social inclusion.
''I am delighted to recognise the work of Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife from the Government of Kenya, Hon. Najib Balala, in promoting community-based tourism as a way of allowing local people to more effectively engage with tourism issues; and promoting youth activities in wildlife conservation and environmental stewardship, ”Gloria said.