Exploit growing interest in local tourism

Local Maasai women displaying their wares near the Sekenani gate in Masai Mara Game Reserve. [Robertert Kiplagat,Standard]

The creation of county level governments has provided many opportunities for tailor-made solutions for the socio economic challenges facing different communities. Opportunities for revenue generation also abound at the local community levels if county governments are innovative in their investment plans.

One of the industries that have huge potential to generate revenue while offering job opportunities for local community members is tourism. The industry has strong linkages with other sectors of the economy including agriculture, wildlife, manufacturing, banking, handcrafts, entertainment and hospitality among others. This gives the sector the potential to transform the social and economic facets of local communities.

Research indicates that in 2019, the tourism industry contributed 10.4 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), equivalent to US$8.8 trillion. The industry directly created one in every 10 jobs globally, an equivalent of 319 million jobs. In Kenya, tourism arrivals grew to 2.05 million up from 2.02 million in 2018. The industry was said to be the fastest growing and one of the leading earners of foreign exchange before Covid-19 struck.

Kenya is a beautiful country with many tourism products and experiences. For many years, these tourism products have been a reserve of a few regions, mainly because other regions did not exploit the available opportunities for local tourist attraction sites and products. Take Meru County, for example. Growing up, we knew a place called Iombe in Meru North Constituency as some kind of watering hole for animals. We paid very little attention to it and did not attach any other value to it beyond that of the watering hole. In fact, many people outside of Igembe North may not have heard about it until after devolution and the subsequent marketing of the place as a tourist attraction site. Now I see many people post pictures of themselves exploring the scenic views of Iombe. Visiting Iombe has become quite the popular get-away among groups of young friends and family.

In parts of North Eastern that were otherwise godforsaken, groups of people are now often seen taking long road trips over the weekends and holidays. Remote desert landscapes and sand dunes now offer experiences akin to the famous Dubai desert safari, only a car ride away. Hiking, mountain climbing and weekend getaways are quite the trend among many young people nowadays.

Despite the setbacks occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has shown significant recovery, registering a 34.76 per cent growth in the number of international visitor arrivals in 2021. The proliferation of small and medium size tour companies also presents great opportunities for not only marketing but also utilisation of the various tourism products.

County governments should identify and grow as many tourism products as possible to spur economic growth at the local levels. There is a need to leverage local monuments, historical sites, parks and other nature attractions and market them locally, regionally and internationally.

Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University

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