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What tourism has done to Kenya and my hometown, Davos

By Ralf Heckner | November 23rd 2018
Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya?, Ralf Heckner

What tourism has done to Kenya and my hometown, Davos When it comes to tourism, Kenya and Switzerland have a lot in common. In both cases, foreigners - specifi cally the British - discovered our countries’ potential for tourism. Before the arrival of the British travelers, the Swiss people were mostly afraid of their steep mountains, which brought fl ooding and avalanches and seemed impenetrable.

When the British discovered the beauty of the Swiss Alps, the Swiss discovered tourism as a source of income and as a new profession. In the 19th century, all over Switzerland fi ve-star hotels were built; steamboats were constructed to let the foreigners experience the breathtaking landscapes of the Swiss lakes; railways and funiculars were built into small valleys and up to the highest mountaintops.

Beauty of Kenya Here in Kenya, the British Royals discovered the beauty of Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century. They called it going for a Safari and learnt some Kiswahili. Most importantly, Switzerland and Kenya invested in high quality hospitality colleges. Some hospitality schools in Switzerland are known throughout the world.

They attract thousands of international students. The same is true for Kenya. Almost everybody knows the Kenya Utalii College, a joint venture of the Swiss and Kenyan governments dating back to the 1970s. But now there is a new kid in town, the Boma International Hospitality College attracting not only Kenyans but students from all over Africa.

The Boma International Hospitality College – or BIHC – is a partnership between a Kenyan school and a Swiss one (the Business & Hotel Management School in Lucerne). Today, 23rd November 2018, is the Second Graduation Ceremony of this young and ambitious institution.

It is the product of a visionary Kenyan, Dr. Abbas Gullet, the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society, and the eff orts made by Dr Gullet and his team to broaden the financial base of the Kenya Red Cross Society as well as to help Kenyan youth acquire marketable skills. With the creation of the Boma International Hospitality College in Nairobi, as well as the Boma Hotel in Eldoret, the Kenya Red Cross Society found a business model to finance its critical humanitarian work for the Kenyan people in need of help and assistance.

In a country as beautiful as Kenya it is easy to attract tourists. But what will keep them coming back year after year is the quality of the services, the infrastructure, the security situation and the innovative tourist attractions that will make the overall experience unforgettable. Tourism is dynamic Tourism, like any other economic sector, is not static.

It evolves over time and has to be reinvented regularly. I have witnessed this personally. I was born and grew up in Davos, a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Historically, Davos went from a poor and isolated village in the 1850s to a fashionable town in 1900. All this thanks to an immigrant, a German doctor who discovered that the mountain air was good to cure tuberculosis.

Another foreigner, a Dutch helped construct the railway connecting Davos to the rest of Switzerland and Germany. The First World War ended a flourishing tourism. But it picked up again in the 1920s when the famous German writer Thomas Mann and the Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson spent time in Davos writing.

The Second World War and the discovery of penicillin, which could cure tuberculosis, destroyed the tourism model of Davos that relied heavily on tuberculosis patients. Davos had to fi nd a new business model which it found fi rst in winter sports (my father was one of the founders of the cross-country skiing club) and then in conference tourism.

Today Davos is worldfamous for hosting the World Economic Forum, during which hotels from Davos all the way to Zurich are fully booked. From health, to sports, to conferences and now moving into sustainable tourism, reinvention has been at the heart of Davos’ DNA for the past 150 years.

Kenya, like Davos and Switzerland, needs constant innovation to remain attractive for the global tourism industry.

Dr Heckner, Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya?

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