If your child is dancing clumsily, tell the child you are dancing clumsily. Don’t tell the child do as you please, my love. In the same vein, let me say we are marketing Kenya timidly. It is better that you hear it from a Kenyan than from a visitor or a stranger.
Why do I say so? First, it is because I cannot see you in the market. The number one market today, is the internet. We are basically not there. The Ministry of Tourism is asleep, as far as connectivity is concerned. One of the goals is to ‘promote modern and cost-effective uptake of e-tourism.’ I believe our catering and travel industry has gone a long way in adapting and adopting e-tourism. One just needs to go online and access the products and make the necessary connections without moving an inch, except to get a cup of coffee.
But, the Ministry and the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) fall far too far behind in the adoption of innovation. Their websites belong to another age. They do not show any of our tourism attractions and several of their links are broken or lead to empty pages. So that area fails the goal stated as ‘to provide competitive environment for tourism entrepreneurship through continuous focus on high quality maintenance of public infrastructure used by visitors. The Ministry and KTB websites are examples of such infrastructure. Not just KICC and a few other mortar and concrete infrastructure.
Secondly, as the Haitians say, he who sings only one song will get only a penny. We used to sing only the Masai Mara song. We got one penny. Then we sang the beach song and we got another penny. We need to sing many more songs if we want to get a pound or a dollar. The counties ought to help in composing those other songs. We have to include all our landmarks and all our people in their natural environment. They already have installed industry operational tools and systems to increase efficiency and competitiveness. They have consumer platforms which tourists use to search information, plan their trips, make purchases, and share experiences and other distribution and commerce tools for ease of transactions. Their websites are broadly admirable. They replaced the word-of-mouth narrative years ago. Ease of navigation, ready information source has made life easier for the intending tourist.
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The third reason for me to charge as I have is this: why do we have to use a South African entity that also markets RSA as the sole organiser of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo? The organiser of last month’s event held at the KICC was On Show Solutions owned by Amanda Margison and Jacqui Reynolds. Is it the company that is set to organise Magical Kenya’s Road show in the USA next year? What does it say of our own men and women who have been charged with the heavy duty of marketing Kenya?
Am I suspicious? Yes. I know South Africa saw 16 million visitors pass through their borders and ports last year and I know Kenya is struggling to post more than two million visitors. That is the basis of my suspicion. Am I wrong? Maybe. But that is my inclination now seeing that we are basically sharing marketers.
However, I have another reason why I say that we are marketing Kenya short. The Republic of South Africa introduced tourism as a subject in schools in 1996. Can you see how many marketers of tourism South Africa marshals across the world?
I suggest that we follow the South African lead. If many citizens are going to spend the rest of their days dealing with tourists, it were better that they know Kenya and how to market it. Devolution has opened up the less visited areas. That calls for more marketing efforts and infrastructural developments to expand the tourism product on offer. A more tourism educated population could drive that agenda.
For that to have an impact in the modern world, we need well-wired people at the top and in the right institutions. We need a brand change and I cannot see the current tourism leadership showing the way. We have diverse cultures, to get us started on a cultural renaissance led by domestic and international tourism.
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- The writer is a lawyer and an author.