Government's plan to position KICC as a preferred conference destination is welcome

President William Ruto is welcomed at KICC by CEO James Mwaura for a recent past event. [File, Standard]

The recent initiative by the government to position Kenya as a premier Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) destination is welcome. The cabinet memo by President Dr William Ruto on June 11, 2024, is a ripe opportune moment for Kenya to leverage this key driver of economic growth as it continues to establish itself as a leading venue for international conferences, particularly in the MICE sector.

Kenya's burgeoning conferencing facilities and the revitalized KICC, which can host up to 6,000 guests in its courtyard and 4,000 in the Tsavo Ballroom with a 1,000-car parking capacity, underlining the country's strategic positioning. Since April this year, the iconic 28-storey KICC has hosted over 50 heads of state and governments and a record number of 23,000 delegates during three major events the IDA 21 Heads of State Summit, 59th Group Annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Africa Development Bank and Africa Soil Health and Fertilizer Summit generating approximately Sh8.6 billion through the ripple effect to the economy.

Buoyed by the successful hosting of these events together with the Africa Climate Summit that was hosted in September last year, Kenya is set to host the Blueinvest Africa Forum in July 2024 and the World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO) in August 2024. These conferences support Kenya's foreign policy goals, focusing on climate change adaptation and the blue economy.

Additionally, Kenya will celebrate World Kiswahili Day with East African Community (EAC) Member States from July 5-7, 2024, highlighting the cultural significance of language. Hosting these major events will improve Kenya's ranking as a preferred MICE destination.

According to the International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA), Kenya ranked third in Africa in 2023, a significant leap from ninth place in 2022. South Africa led with 98 conferences, Rwanda was second with 32, and Kenya hosted 21. Such summits and events are crucial for raising Kenya’s visibility and attracting more MICE business.

Kenya's progress is evident in the ICCA report, which analysed over 10,000 meetings. Globally, Kenya climbed to the 58th position in 2023 from 80th in 2022, while Nairobi rose to the 111th position from 292nd based on the global tally of meetings held. This advancement underscores the thriving MICE industry in Kenya, reinforcing its reputation as a premier destination for international events.

This progress aligns with KICC's ongoing review of its five-year strategic plan (2023-2028), an effort supported by the introduction of visa-free entry under the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) framework, making it easier for international visitors to attend events in Kenya.

The MICE sector is a key contributor to Kenya’s economic growth as laid out in the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA). The sector plans to increase international MICE visitors from 110,000 in 2015 to one million by 2030, raising MICE earnings from Sh17 billion (approximately USD 157 million) in 2015 to Sh40 billion (approximately USD 370 million) by 2030.

James Mwaura is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC)