Kenya should position itself as an events hub to boost tourism

An aerial photo of the KICC, Times Tower, and CBK Pension Tower, Nairobi. May 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Tourism is the act of travel for the purpose of recreation and leisure. Business travellers are also classified as tourists because they also consume a variety of tourism-related services and products.

Leading destination brands across the world have successfully leveraged event tourism to serve as part of their brand strengthening strategy and to achieve different economic and tourism goals.

Events attract media attention that allows for a destination brand to be perceived in favourable light. These include conferences, trade fairs and exhibitions, music concerts, festivals, cultural and sporting events. Major events attract large audiences often upwards of tens of thousands. Audience numbers can sometimes run into hundreds of thousands for mega-events.

Events inspire interest in a destination and support destination marketing and tourism development. Many countries have used events in order to gain legitimacy and reputation, highlight their achievements and assist in the process of opening their countries to global influences. Events can be the catalyst that creates the real reason for that potential tourist to visit a particular destination.

When tourists visit a destination for the purpose of attending an event, they tend to stay before and after the event. Events also improve hotel bed occupancies, and boost the economies of host destinations by securing inflows of foreign capital, generating employment, and stimulating circulation of money in the local economy. This delivers economic benefits and enhances the citizen’s quality of life. 

While in the country, visitors offer us an opportunity to create memorable experiences that secure their loyalty, commendations and future repeat visits.  Some visitors prefer timing their visits to coincide with specific events for value addition. They do this to seek opportunities to experience unique cultural, social or recreational experiences. 

In this respect tourism revenues and arrival numbers can be positively influenced through the conception and production of a portfolio of carefully curated events aimed at generating tourist demand as well as attaining a long-term impact on the image and attractiveness of the destination.

The destination’s event portfolio must also be in synergy with the character and image we desire to showcase. The inherent power of events is evident in the impressive performance metrics evidenced on revenues and arrival statistics registered by top destination brands that have invested in developing the required infrastructural capacity and running well-funded marketing campaigns.

Industry players and government should initiate joint event design and marketing campaigns through broader and more inclusive public-private partnerships to include developing a comprehensive annual events calendar by type, season and attractiveness to attract the domestic, regional and international travel market. Counties should also develop and market attractive events to boost visitor arrivals and revenues. This will help diversify our tourism products. Our tourism industry characteristically features high and low seasons.

By interspersing events and strategically spreading them across the year, we can purposefully and progressively eliminate the low season feature which traditionally sees a decrease in visitor numbers and revenues in most of the country’s tourism attractions. The UK and Germany, for example, host their largest and well-attended tourism trade fairs during winter when their visitor numbers would normally be comparatively low.

This is aimed at sustaining high levels of bed occupancies through delegates from around the world when the weather conditions aren’t favourable for leisure-based tourism. The annual four-day World Travel Market event in London attracts approximately 50,000 attendees comprising senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international media and generates over £3.71 billion (Sh536 billion) in travel industry contracts. Pre-Covid, the city of London attracted approximately 21 million visitors in 2019.

Kenya has successfully hosted a number of regional and international events. Regrettably, the country has also missed opportunities to host continental football tournaments majorly due to sub-standard or inadequate facilities. Nairobi is currently the only destination with accommodation capacity to host reasonably large events depending on the number of delegates. Kisumu County had to extend its search for accommodation to neighbouring counties to accommodate over 10,000 delegates that attended the 9th Edition of the Africities Summit.

However, Kisumu’s economy experienced a welcome boost following the damaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hotels and other accommodation properties, tourism attractions, transport services providers and restaurants among others were among the key beneficiaries over the duration of the summit.

There is an opportunity and existing goodwill for Kenya to position itself as a regional events hub. However, this is only achievable on condition that government consistently allocates adequate funds and actively spearheads the sourcing of additional investments towards sustained development of the infrastructure required. This will progressively enable the country to become a formidable contender for hosting premium international events.

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