Adventures firm eyes Sh2b revenue from increased Africa travel

Intrepid Travel managing director Zina Bencheikh. [Courtesy]

Adventure travel firm Intrepid Travel is eyeing to make 19 million Australian dollars (Sh2 billion) in revenue in Kenya on increased travel to Africa.

This is according to Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Travel managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa(EMEA), during an interview at their offices in Karen, Nairobi.

“The ongoing war in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine has caused more tourists to desire to travel to Kenya more than South Africa and Egypt,” said Ms Bencheikh.

She said they have already booked 2,000 customers to Kenya with a target of 10,000 tourists annually, 1,500 to South Africa, 1,000 to Jordan and 1,700 to Egypt, which shows that Africa is coming out strongly.

The high season in Africa is from June to October, meaning the firm has six months to sell the trips.

The recent removal of visas to enter Kenya, the MD said, will also increase travel to the country.

In this year 2024, Intrepid is expecting more growth in Africa, with many tourists travelling domestically and regionally - and Europe and Australia already benefiting from such.

“We are therefore investing in this region through developing more products that cover unreached areas or less travelled ones like Samburu, Meru, Tsavo, and Amboseli and enable tourists deep into their respective communities to learn about culture and purchase more trucks to boost our premium product since the vehicles are the core of our business,” Bencheikh said.

The company’s plan is to surpass the annual 10,000 customers it handles in Kenya.

Apart from the visa requirement removal from January by the government, the growth of wellness and experiential travel and the digital transformation of tourism processes will form what will drive up travel trends in 2024.

Bencheikh says diversification of destinations and investing in marketing, especially in the northern hemisphere has also helped them get good businesses.

In addition, the sustainability certification that they have of B Corp has boosted their business, because when customers especially from Australia and the United Kingdom see the certification, they see the the company as a sustainable business at a time more people want to travel sustainably.

Bencheikh says the 30-year-old company headquartered in Australia has operations in 120 countries, with two offices in Africa including Kenya to cater for East African market needs and South Africa.

The firm, she said carries around 250,000 visitors annually, who each spend around $10,000 (Sh1.6 million) within seven to 12 days on a vacation with one truck carrying about 12 passengers on average, and a guide, driver and chef. 

Its main product is the premium package, which includes travelling in large trucks with large groups and immersion in the local communities, experiences that could be active connecting with local people and learning about their culture.

Adventure tourism is becoming popular and growing faster than cruise, independent travel and package holidays because of travellers who are willing to experience more expensive products, Bencheikh says.

“I think post-pandemic travel has created a new desire to travel to other new destinations to experience after the past two or three years of restricted travel.”

In terms of challenges, the cost of living has impacted people’s travel choices but the company has tried to diversify its products portfolio and reduced the cost to less expensive packages.

Intrepid urges the government to work closely with tourism stakeholders through partnerships, like Portugal is doing, to get advice on what needs to be done or focused on to improve the sector.

According to government data, tourism earnings increased to Sh333.9 million in the past 16 months since September 2022 from Sh268 million when the Kenya Kwanza regime took over power.

Tourism arrivals increased to 1.76 million in 2023 from 1.5 million in 2022, recording an 18.4 per cent jump.

This was attributed to the increase in tourism receipts over holistic marketing and ease of travel restrictions across the world.

This is according to Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura, who spoke recently when he outlined achievements of the ministries of Tourism and Wildlife, Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs and State Law Office.

Intrepid Travel general manager for East Africa Samuel Kimani says county governments’ new policies that have made destinations become expensive including increasing park fees and reducing time spent in the parks are not good for the sector.

“Once a destination becomes expensive, travellers tend to look to other alternatives,” he says.

He faulted the national government for introducing visa-free travel in January without consulting the sector players.

“The visa-free entry was rushed and not well-thought out and this might complicate matters tourism beyond. It is good for the government to engage tourism sector players to understand the impact that the policies they intend to introduce will affect the sector before doing that,” said Kimani.

The visa-free entry requires a traveller to apply three days prior to entering the country through the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) and pay a processing fee of $34 (Sh5,000). 

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