Kenya has the potential to be among top tourist destinations

A Film crew documents the lives of an elephant family seen from Oltukai Lodge at the Amboseli Game reserve, Kajiado county on February 26, 2021 [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

That they have been through the wringer and haven’t yet snapped is a testament to the resilience of Kenyans. With surging food and fuel prices eating into people’s spending, the country still carries on with the same attitude that once saw it voted the most optimistic nation in the world. This optimism is not misplaced. Not if one considers the events of the past weekend. 

The World Travel Awards (WTA) Africa and Indian Ocean Gala Ceremony 2022 was held at the Kenya International Convention Centre (KICC). Industry figureheads of the continent’s travel, tourism and hospitality industry gathered to find out who amongst them had won the industry’s ultimate honours.

Kenya scooped major titles at the event. It was voted Africa’s Leading Destination. The capital Nairobi claimed the prize for Africa’s Leading Business Travel Destination. KICC was declared Africa’s Leading Business Meeting and Conference Centre. 

Graham Cooke, founder of the WTA, said, “Nairobi is a pulsating city, rich in heritage but with a dynamic, forward-thinking business focus.” He also said, “Kenya should take its place at the high table of world-class tourism destinations. 

Cooke is spot on! When one considers the veritable table of product offerings that Kenya can tap into, the potential to be a tourism world leader is infinite. Away from the beaches of the country’s North and South coast, or the Maasai Mara, there are other tourism attractions that have yet to be exploited. For instance, little is known of the Takawiri Island in Homa Bay County, yet it has sandy beaches that are as pristine as those of Watamu in Malindi. 

Nor is much known of Kenya’s Jade sea, Lake Turkana, which is home of the Central Island National Park. The lake is the natural habitat of the largest crocodile population in the world and has a number of volcanic features with three small jade-coloured lakes. In addition to being the largest alkaline lake in the world, Lake Turkana is also the world’s largest permanent desert lake. 

Perhaps the tourist circuit should include the Great Rift Valley that transverses a huge section of the country. Driving from Nakuru, which has a national park with a huge population of flamingos in addition to most of the big five, one bypasses Lake Bogoria with its hot geysers, to wind up the steep incline to Kabarnet town at the edge of the escarpment. The rapid changes from desert heat to tundra-like chills along the way make for a memorable experience. And so do the views.

Iten, on the other side of the escarpment, is famous for two things; high-altitude training camps for world-class athletes and access to the Kerio Valley where paragliding is done. Many tourists would welcome the opportunity to run alongside Kenya’s famous names.

Adrenaline junkies would also savour the thrill of jumping off a cliff and floating over the Rift Valley for hours on end sustained by nothing more than hot air currents rising from the floor of the valley. 

Time and space would be inadequate to cover features of the Western Kenya circuit, like the cave elephants of the Mount Elgon national park. Or the bird, snake, and monkey species of Kakamega forest, the country’s only tropical rain forest and part of the belt that runs all the way to West Africa. Or the Sitatunga of Kingwal swamp in Nandi County; perhaps the only species of aquatic antelopes on the continent. To those charged with marketing Kenya, over to you!

I would be remiss not to mention Kenya Airways’ (KQ) exemplary performance at the WTA. The airline scooped a record four awards: Africa’s Leading Airline-Business Class, Africa’s Leading Airline-Brand, Best Inflight Magazine, and African Airline of the Year.

For those of us who have vociferously defended the Pride of Africa, even at the risk of being branded spin doctors, this is a vindication of our long-held belief that the airline is on the right trajectory. We look forward to its return to profitability.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst