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Conference tourism gaining traction

By Nana Gecaga | August 12th 2016

Over the years, Kenya has hosted some of the biggest global conferences and business convergences in Africa, with delegates flying in from far-flung corners of the world.

Just a fortnight ago, the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) successfully hosted the 14th edition of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIV), bringing to our capital city heads of government, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, ministers and other dignitaries and delegates and exposing to them what Kenya has to offer.

But what goes on behind the scenes in preparation for such conferences? It takes time for a country to prepare to host such an event – from complex logistics to hospitality to technical preparations.

Indeed, it starts with an intention – the host country has to place a bid to host the conference through what is known as the National Bidding Team.

Government support at the highest level plays an important role in endorsing a bid to host a conference.

In Kenya, this started way back when Mzee Jomo Kenyatta led Kenya's bid to host the country's first truly global conference, the UNCTAD IV Conference, in 1976, which he officially opened and invited delegates to sample Kenya's rich heritage of scenic flora and fauna, and her people's hospitality.

His endorsement and lead in bidding for global conferences became a practice taken over by President Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002), and President Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013) resulting in the country hosting many other big, world-class conventions at the KICC and other venues.

In those days, holding global meetings in developing countries was a rarity, but KICC distinguished itself and the '70s, '80s and part of the '90s constituted what may be described as KICC's golden age where we witnessed a series of high-impact international conventions in Nairobi.

And now, President Uhuru Kenyatta has perfected the art of influencing global conferences to come to Kenya.

This year, the very successful Global Entrepreneurship Summit was attended by United States President Barack Obama.

Last year, the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Ministerial Conference was held here, and the recently concluded UNCTAD XIV was also a huge success.

The forthcoming Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) that is scheduled for August 27-28, 2016 is bound to go smoothly as well. Going forward, the country has lined up more global conferences in the year.

On the modern global conferencing circuit, a proposal to host meetings is not only complex, but demanding. In this regard, we have developed the capacity to make Kenya the destination of choice.

Indeed, landing a global conference is not only a fine line in a top level keynote endorsement address – it is woven into every aspect of planning, to lobbying, to the country's presentation and bid-defence before a high-level panel of board of directors, and in the presence of other competing destinations vying for host status.

And whereas the meetings industry remains one of the most buoyant sectors of the tourism industry in Kenya, there has been need to better understand the importance of business events to the country.

In this regard, Kenya has developed a strategy to bridge the gap between itself and other competitors by increasing the current 10 per cent market share in Africa to compete effectively with South Africa, which has 35 per cent share of the continental share.

The Government, in partnership with the private sector stakeholders, is carrying out a series of modernisation, upgrade and expansion of its meetings facilities, augmented by infrastructure improvement and development and technological advancement.

Kenya targets to increase delegates visiting the country next year to 57,435, from 35,663 in 2012 and increasing the number of conferences (as measured by International Congress and Convention Association - ICCA) from 29 to 44.

Moving forward we are now working on two projects that will move volumes of delegates coming to Kenya.

Firstly, the Corporation will work with other tourism stakeholders to come up with an all-inclusive, attractive, but competitive conference booking packages that will position the destination as a top world-class business events destination, and which will ensure that the country reaps more benefit.

Secondly, to grow conference tourism locally, the corporation is partnering with counties to offer capacity building and technical support on bidding for conferences, as well as advice on setting up and managing convention facilities.

KICC recognises the potential growth for local tourism and we feel this new approach will help counties become more sustainable in conferencing.

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