Which way forward for Kenya's tourism sector post-covid?

The East African nation remains to be a popular destination in the continent

In Summary
  • The industry was most hurt by the pandemic 
  • The country  recorded a 40.8% growth in tourism numbers in the period (January-October, 2021) compared to the same period last year.
Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr Betty Radier in her office.
Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr Betty Radier in her office.

 The tourism sector has been reeling following the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic came with.

Players in the sector have been forced to go back to the drawing board.

However, Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr. Betty Radier says there are opportunities and lessons learnt.

Radier interacted with Star Newspaper reporter Gilbert Koech.

How is the sector performing towards the end of the year?

The year 2021 has been challenging for the tourism industry, not only in Kenya but globally. The Covid-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges to the tourism and hospitality industry across the world and certainly, Kenya has not been spared.

The fact that many of our key tourism source markets were locked up for months really hurt our industry. There is also the issue of traveller confidence, most tourists across the world preferred to travel within their countries or regionally due to the fear of contracting the coronavirus.

For instance, during this period the United Kingdom which is one of our key tourist source markets red-listed Kenya due to the Covid-19 situation for several months, and therefore had a very negative impact on the sector.

However, Kenya was removed from the Red List and that has no doubt helped ease travel between the two counties as well as enhanced traveller confidence not only in the UK but also in the larger Europe and across the world.

Similarly, there was a period when India, which is a source market for us, experienced a surge in their Covid-19 cases and we subsequently had to impose travel restrictions into and out of their country to curb the spread of the virus.

The United States market also experienced challenges with Covid-19 and imposed restrictions on their citizens including issuing travel advisories which hurt the sector.

What opportunities do we have in the domestic market?

The domestic market has been a silver lining during the largest part of the last 18 months in the destination. While travel restrictions threaten the international travel sector, Kenyans took the opportunity to embrace the new normal and explore what the country has to offer and at the same time supported the industry.

The domestic market has always been important for the industry; in 2019 domestic tourism activities amounted to 4,955,800 bed nights representing a 10.4% growth from 2018 when it was 4,489,000- bed-nights. This cements the fact that this market is important for the growth of the sector.

During this period, we have marketed the destination to all markets including the emerging markets through various campaigns aimed at keeping the destination top of mind as well as arousing the interest of travellers.

Our goal is to sustain this momentum to the domestic market by tailor-making products that suit them as well as giving domestic tourists value for their money.

We are working with the private sector on domestic campaigns that are aimed at showcasing our magic as well as showing Kenyans that they don’t have to go out of the country to enjoy themselves.

What are some of the gains so far?

We have received various rotations of charters from markets such as Ukraine and Romania bringing in tourists from these markets which are not traditional to us.

Further, we have had airlines opening new routes into the destination with Lufthansa and KLM now flying directly into Mombasa which is opens up the Kenya coast to the world.

All these factors have had an effect on the industry during the year.

The ongoing vaccination campaign that targets 10 million Kenyans by the end of the year is very welcome and will create travel confidence; currently, around six million Kenyans have received the jab.

Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr Betty Radier. Image:Handout.
Kenya Tourism Board CEO Dr Betty Radier. Image:Handout.

How many international visitors do we expect until the end of the year?

With most of the countries now open for travel, including some of our key source markets, we expect international tourists to continue coming into the country as we head towards the end of the year.

Kenya recorded a 40.8% growth in tourism numbers with 663,036 visitors in the period (January-October, 2021) compared to the same period last year that recorded 470,971 visitors. 

The US market recorded the highest arrivals into Kenya with 108,072 visitors contributing 16.3% of the total arrivals, Uganda is 2nd with 59,979 (9.0%), and Tanzania third with 58,946 (8.9%).

From Europe, the UK market in the 4th position led with 34,121 (5.1). Others in the order of arrivals were India with 31,644 (4.8%), and China with 27,494(4.1%).

While we are still not where we want to be, we are hopeful that we will hit close to one million by the end of the festive season which remains a crucial period for the sector.

Kenya remains to be a popular destination during the festive season and as such we expect tourists to continue coming into the country.

What are some of the incentives that you are planning to have in place to encourage more domestic tourism?

The festive season is one that we always look forward to and gladly it is here with us now. It couldn’t have come at a better time than now when we are working very hard to ensure that the industry is brought back to normal.

One of the segments that have been and will continue to be very critical to the tourism industry is domestic tourism. We, therefore, continue to encourage experience owners and stakeholders to continue being creative in their products to suit this market.

Further, this market is price conscious and therefore we encourage competitive pricing and giving value for money to domestic tourists.

Through the partnership with the trade, we have encouraged trade offers and discounts to encourage travel throughout the year.

Through the partnership with the trade, KTB has encouraged the trade to offer domestic tourists discounted offers or packages to encourage travel throughout the year. We have offered our platform to the trade for free for them to advertise their offers, these are accessible on www.magicalkenya.com/tembeakenya/

There are many tourist establishments that are already implementing very attractive and competitive offers to clients and we believe this will go a long way to encouraging domestic tourism going forward.

Our goal is to sustain this momentum to the domestic market by tailor-making products that suit domestic tourists and offering them value for their money.

Further, we are running domestic campaigns with the private sector geared towards showcasing the magic of Kenya as well as showing Kenyans that they don’t have to go out of the country to enjoy themselves.

What are some of the quick lessons that you have learned from the outbreak of the pandemic?

The Covid-19 has taught us great lessons as a destination. One of them is that the tourism industry can easily be affected by unseen circumstances that are not within its control.

I have therefore come to appreciate the need to ensure that as we prepare for the future, we must prepare for the unseen crisis.

Businesses will now have to change their models to ensure continued operations in the new normal.

The other major lesson is that domestic tourism is a segment that we need to continue laying an emphasis on. For a long time, Kenya’s tourism has been highly dependent on international arrivals.

With international travel adversely affected by the pandemic, the industry was left to almost entirely depend on domestic travellers who have so far been the lifeline of the industry and prevented it from collapsing.

This is a segment that we shall continue to put much emphasis on as we don’t expect international travel to fully resume soon.  

Additionally, one of the aspects that will greatly define tourism post this pandemic will definitely be about how well a destination can guarantee the health and safety of travelers.

Travelers are now more health-conscious than before and going forward, they will be extra keen on their health and will only be interested in visiting a particular destination after being convinced that their health has been well taken care of.

The digital space will also continue to be an important space in marketing destinations, most of our campaigns have been run on the digital space and travelers have received the content positively.

On the same note, I must say that one silver lining of the pandemic is that travelers are now keener on sustainability. Going forward travellers will take on the role of “concerned citizens” demanding responsible travel policies from destinations. The industry has responded with active measures to prioritize a healthy world over profit margins and I think that is a positive aspect.

What is the expectation for next year in regard to a rebound of the sector and what is KTB planning to ensure a successful 2022?

We are hopeful that 2022 will be a good year for the tourism sector. The acceleration of the Covid-19 vaccination in Kenya and around the world will be key to ensuring the industry is brought back to life.

We project that the industry will bounce back fully to 2019 levels in 2024, which means that a lot of work needs to be done for us to actualize this.

As the destination’s marketer, we shall continue to run destination marketing campaigns targeting both domestic and international tourists. We continue to call on travellers to resume travelling to Kenya and experience our tourism offerings, while at the same time assuring them of their health and safety while here.

In addition, we remain cognizant of the fact that the current travellers are interested in new and engaging travel experiences and not just the normal traditional products.

In this respect, we are constantly working with tourism players to innovate by coming up with new experiences that are in line with the current Travers’ demands.

Through the Magical Kenya Signature Experiences program, we aim to recognize the facilities that have come up with these new experiences which are unique and authentic.

At the beginning of the year, we unveiled 29 new experiences adding to the 15 which we had recognized in 2019 in phase one of the program.

We now have a total of 44 such experiences and continue to urge players to keep being innovative in order to keep Kenya on top of tourism destinations offering bespoke experiences.