Government splashes Sh100m for tourists comfort zones in counties

Tourism CS Dr. Alfred Mutua feeding a baby elephant with milk at Reteti Community Elephant Sanctuary in Samburu County on March 21, 2024. [File, Standard]

The government has announced plans to inject over Sh100 million into the development of comfort zones across various counties in a bid to bolster the country's tourism sector. This move comes as part of a broader strategy to enhance infrastructure and amenities catering to both local and international tourists.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Dr Alfred Mutua, emphasised the crucial role of infrastructure in advancing the tourism industry, stating, "There cannot be value tourism without proper infrastructure."

He underlined the significance of creating comfortable spaces where visitors can access essential amenities such as medical services and refreshments, thereby enriching their overall tourism experience.

As part of this initiative, the Ministry of Tourism intends to establish comfort zones in strategic locations across the country. Dr Mutua revealed that he has already visited 12 counties and plans to engage with all 47 county governors to solicit their support in expanding tourist attractions within their respective regions.

In addition to infrastructure development, the ministry has also issued a stern warning to hotels that maintain high ratings despite substandard facilities. Dr. Mutua expressed his determination to overhaul the existing system within the ministry to promote innovation and ensure that hotel standards align with international benchmarks.

"We have essentially stagnated at a comfort level within the tourism sector, with minimal innovation or progress," remarked Dr. Mutua, highlighting the need for transformative change. He underscored the importance of enhancing the quality and value of tourism offerings to drive sustainable growth in the industry.

The tourism sector has witnessed a remarkable resurgence, with revenues reaching Sh352 billion in 2023, surpassing the previous peak recorded in 2019. Despite attributions to the weakening Kenyan shilling against major currencies, Dr. Mutua emphasized that the sector's recovery is primarily fueled by Kenya's reputation as a premier tourist destination.

While recent fluctuations in the value of the Kenyan shilling have raised concerns, Dr. Mutua remains optimistic about the sector's continued growth trajectory. He reiterated the government's commitment to enhancing the value proposition of Kenya's tourism offerings, thereby attracting more visitors to the country.

According to the CS, the Ministry of Tourism is working to optimise domestic and international tourism potential. Mutua emphasized the importance of making Kenya a comfortable and appealing destination for travelers, calling on more Kenyans to invest in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary celebration of Sarova Hotels and Resorts,  Mutua emphasized the need for targeted marketing efforts to attract more African tourists. He highlighted Africa as a key source market for Kenya's tourism sector, emphasizing the need to tap into this demographic to boost occupancy rates in hotels and resorts.

Jimi Kariuki, Managing Director of Sarova Hotels and Resorts, underscored the sector's potential for investment and growth. He cited the positive performance of the tourism sector in 2023 and expressed optimism about future prospects.

Despite the encouraging signs, Dr. Mutua stressed the importance of addressing existing gaps in tourism infrastructure and service delivery. He called for a comprehensive approach to upgrading hotels and resorts, emphasizing the need for standardised rating systems to maintain quality standards.

In 2023, Nairobi emerged as the leading destination for licensed hotel beds, followed by Nakuru, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale, and Kisumu. Total bed occupancies experienced a notable increase, reflecting the growing popularity of Kenya as a tourist destination.

The Tourism Research Institute's 2023 report highlighted the positive trends in both domestic and international tourism. Domestic bed occupancy witnessed a significant uptick, while international visitors contributed to a substantial increase in overall occupancy rates.

Mutua said he is committed to driving innovation and growth within Kenya's tourism sector by prioritising infrastructure development, enhancing service quality, and expanding marketing efforts, the government aims to position Kenya as a leading global tourism destination.

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