Tembea Kenya! You owe it to yourself and your country

An old church in Limuru. [XN Iraki, Standard]

The tourism performance report 2021 shows the sector is rebounding, thanks to vaccines and domestic tourists who have kept it afloat amidst the ravages of Covid-19 on the economy.

Some interesting observations from that report are worth highlighting.

One is that while most visitors (about 34 per cent) were on holiday during the review period, another 30 per cent were visiting family and friends.

The UK, India and the US remain the biggest contributors to the second category of tourists to Kenya because of historical ties.

The third tourism driver, according to the report is Meeting, Incentives, Convention and Exhibition (MICE ) at 26 per cent. The rest of the visit purposes have less than six per cent.  

I was particularly interested in innovations in this sector.

One is cultural tourism, which mentions places that still keep their traditions like Turkana and Lamu.

Yet other cultural curiosities would attract tourists.  What of traditional wedding ceremonies like ngurario or ntheo? What of bullfighting, circumcision ceremonies, among others? 

Our history is another attraction, which is hard to copy. For instance, Machakos was once Kenya’s capital.

There is no evidence of that in Machakos town, funeral homes are more prominent than that historical fact.

Ever visited Fort Smith in Upper Kabete?  

Missionary stations with their historical churches and their unique architecture are great attractions. Examples include Tuthu in central Kenya and Kaaga in Meru, Rabai, Kaimosi and Kibwezi. 

What of the battlefields of  World War I in Taita Taveta where aviation in Kenya started? And did you know there are wreckages of fighter planes in the Aberdares and Mt Kenya? I once came across the wreckage of the Blenheim bomber near the source of the Malewa River, deep in the Aberdares.

And did you know the Germans made an incursion into Kisii during WW I? What of palaces of our former kings? I recall visiting a former palace in Warsaw, Poland and another in Fort Portal in western Uganda.

We can restore these palaces. Are the counties listening? Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Japan among other developed countries still have royal families. Why do we think it’s a problem for us?  

What of former colonial houses that dot the former White Highlands and beyond? There is no limit to what we can package as tourist attractions.

Even the myth of witchcraft in Gaturi, Murang’a, or mythical behaviour in Dundori like checking the gender of a car can be tourist attractions.

What of tea and flower farms?  

Who has been to the Railway Museum?

What of a museum of firsts? Where is Kenya’s first registered car or the first-ever issued title deed, driving licence, marriage or death certificate? What of the first birth certificate, PhD certificate, prisoner or plane? The list is endless. 

When I saw Hilary Clinton’s Grade Four report form at the Clinton Presidential Library in  Little Rock, Arkansas, I realised how easy it is to create attractions.

Who would not like to see school grade reports for our leaders from Jomo Kenyatta to those contesting to be the fifth president?  

If we copied the US political system with senators and governors, why not their presidential library system?

Why do we visit Mandela House in South Africa’s Soweto and not our former presidents’ homes? How has Kiambu, Baringo and Othaya benefited in tourism for producing presidents?  

Covid-19 lockdowns gave us all the time to think of possible tourism packages. Did we? We can even come up with our own tourist circuits?

Who said tourism operators must define circuits for us?  

Last week, I happened to be part of a group that designed a tourism circuit, and we really enjoyed it.

We started by visiting two historical houses near Kamiti Prison. One was formerly owned by John Boyles, the self-proclaimed king of the Kikuyus. It’s now a police canteen at Kiamumbi Police Station. 

We visited a house in Kiambu that is over 100 years old, then two old churches, one built in 1922 and another in 1940. In one church compound are the graves of the late Richard Leakey’s parents, while in the other we found Lord Errol’s resting place.

We visited a 100-year-old school in Limuru. We added a tea farm and a railway station in the same locality to the circuit. Curiously, the Limuru Railway Station has second and third class toilets outside! We could not avoid the 1.7km Buxton tunnel nearby, which was built in 1949.

The whole trip cost about Sh2,000 and took just a day. It left me wondering why we spend weekends in Nairobi.

The English Premier League and sports bars are not enough to glue us to the city. Let’s explore our country.

Taken the new scenic road from Ngong to Suswa. Admire the sand dunes in the north; every county has something to offer. 

Don’t other people leave the comfort of their countries to visit Kenya? Why not raise your status by being a tourist?

There is more to the country than beaches and national parks. Stop watching too many movies. Nature has enough reality!

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