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KTB boss: How pandemic has changed tourism marketing

By Wainaina Wambu | Dec 28th 2021 | 4 min read
By Wainaina Wambu | December 28th 2021

Kenya Tourism Boar CEO Betty Radier.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year, tourism has not only been one of the most battered sectors but perhaps also one of the most resilient.

Figures from the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) show that the sector recorded a 40.8 per cent growth in the 10 months to October this year, with 663,036 visitors coming into the country, up from 470,971 visitors in the same period last year.

The pandemic has forced sector players to become innovative in the wake of the virus that sees constant restrictions in the movement of people even as mass vaccinations increase globally.

Tourism marketing has changed, spurring domestic travel and a shift to “travel-ready markets.”

KTB Chief Executive Betty Radier noted that there is a lot of potential in domestic tourism, and the board had always focused on it even pre-pandemic as it tends to be more resilient in terms of withstanding shocks such as terror, health crisis or economic downturn.

“If you look at the 2019 figures, we were already moving close to five million bed nights. That was largely driven by domestic tourism (54 per cent),” she said in a recent interview with Financial Standard.

She said domestic travellers tend to be a lot more confident in terms of spending and are more “liberated as they don’t need to be chaperoned.”

“The domestic traveller is quite lucrative if you know how to interest them. The onus is on the facility and providers to consider, once I have a visitor in my establishment what can I expose them to?” posed Radier. Heading into an election year, Radier is wary about the possibility of a long-drawn process.

“It creates a lot of pressure for us to reassure our key markets that elections are over in one day and we continue with the normal business,” she added.

So how has post-pandemic marketing changed?  

“Post-pandemic, visitors are now looking for a competitive reason to pick your destination. You need to present it with a lot of experiences that they can have,” said Radier

This year, for example, KTB expanded the Magical Kenya Signature experiences by adding 29 new sites. Farm tours and agro-tourism also became a key tourism product this year. The pandemic has changed how tourism marketers look at things, taking into account health, safety and risk for visitors.

In the wake of Covid-19, potential travellers’ appetite is nowadays largely driven by the health protocol requirements in their destinations.

“The pandemic has changed at how we look at markets over and above the potential traveller...,” said Radier, adding that they now court “markets that are ready to travel.”

One such market is the US, where she said the board has upped its marketing strategies. This is as opposed to key traditional tourism markets such as the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, which have stringent travel restrictions, especially in the wake of the new Omicron Covid-19 strain.  

KTB figures show that the US recorded the highest arrivals into Kenya this year with 108,072 visitors, accounting for 16.3 per cent of the total arrivals.

 “The UK is fairly complex to make a decision to travel. For a long time, it was running a quarantine programme, whereupon return travellers needed 10 to 14 days of quarantine,” said Radier.

“From the perspective of a traveller, it doesn’t make sense... I’m going on holiday, and half of it is spent in isolation. And before that, one needs a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before travel and another one on return,” she said. Such hassles are limiting travel. But ironically, Radier noted, countries that have low infection rates tend to be more open to travel.

“Our profile of source markets will be driven a lot by how they react to the pandemic and how it pans out,” she said. The UK ranked fourth in tourists numbers with 34,121 visitors, accounting for 5.1 per cent of total numbers, while India had 31,644 visitors (4.8 per cent) and China 27,494 visitors (4.1 per cent). Kenya’s neighbours Uganda and Tanzania took the second and third positions respectively.

Radier said factors such as the ease of access to countries by airlines and health protocols for both inbound and outbound passengers play an important role in helping the board map out their key new markets.

She further observed that the industry needs to keep adapting to the times. KTB was banking on the reopening of the economy and the rollout of mass vaccinations to speed up the sector’s recovery, but the development of new variants has slowed down the process.

“Before Omicron, there was Delta. There’s a trend, and we must be students of experience. It’s how we manage the apprehension by the traveller in order to be able to manage the process of people making the decision about travel,” said Radier.

“If every time there’s a new variant we lockdown, it means we’ll never be able to recover as an industry.”

She added that the biggest surprise for tourism marketers has been the stark difference in the response between the rich and poor countries, especially to the new variants.

“You’d imagine just because of the tech advancement, they’d have a headstart in vaccinations and understanding the pandemic, but their reaction every time is like they’ve just discovered there’s a pandemic,” said Radier.

She said going into the New Year, the sector must be “nimble” and able to “weigh the changing face of the pandemic.”

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