•The government has imposed a 30-day ban on all conferences of international nature amid efforts to contain the coronavirus.
•The local conferencing and service sector could miss out on up to Sh1billion in the short-term.
The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions(MICE) sector is set for a major blow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen government restrict movement into the country.
On Friday, the government imposed a 30-day ban on all conferences of international nature amid efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, who is also the Chairman of the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus, said the ban will take effect from March 6.
"If a conference or meeting involves people traveling from Europe, the Middle East or so on, we have asked that you suspend at least for the next 30 days," Kagwe said.
Government officials traveling to affected countries will also not be allowed unless it is crucial.
MICE, a key arm of the tourism sector, will be hard hit as conference planners move to cancel or postpone major meetings, which will affect at least 1,000 delegates in the short-term.
Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), the country's home of MICE, has so far canceled two major conferences and four exhibitions of international standard.
They include the Next Einstein Forum 2020 Global Gathering(March 10-13) and the 4th Pan African Youth Conference(March 24-26), with each having a potential of attracting at least 300 delegates.
Affected exhibitions include Oil and Gas Expo, Build Expo , Auto Expo and the China Trade Week for this year, which traditionally attracts more than 500 exhibitors.
“It is not a unique thing to Kenya. It is an unforeseen circumstance that has affected the entire globe,” KICC chief executive Nana Gecaga told the Star, calling for innovation and promotion of local content.
“It is time we start thinking of how we can push more local content. From conferences to hotel packages, which will help sustain the industry,” she said, “The potential is huge.”
With every international delegate spending at least Sh376,000 per conference trip of about three to six days, the country will lose up to Sh376 million on 1,000 delegates alone.
The effects of the virus will spillover to airlines, parks and the entire service sector which has traditionally reaped big from major events in the country, which could miss out on up to Sh1 billion in revenues in the short-term.
The ban on conferences came barely a week after government restricted flights between Kenya and Italy.
“Italy is one of our big source markets on the Kenyan coast and it was a difficult decision for government to halt flights from North Italy, but it was necessary,”Tourism CS Najib Balala said.
He noted that almost all African related Coronavirus infections recorded have been from travellers from North Italy.
He has however called on Kenyans and the public not to stigmatize foreign nationals currently visiting or residing in Kenya, whether Asian or Caucasian.
“The government through the ministry of health has installed screening systems of the COVID-19 at all border points,” he noted.
He has called on industry players to adopt on ways to minimize the risk of contracting the Coronavirus.
“Let's adopt this form of proper hygiene in all our hotels, lodges, airlines, tour vans and restaurants,” the CS told sector players at a forum in Mombasa.
Coronavirus now poses a major threat to Balala's 10 per cent growth projection for the sector this year as global travel trends remain affected.
He is counting on aggressive marketing campaign, product development and diversification by industry players and growth of MICE to propel the industry to new heights.
MICE contributed 13.5 per cent of total 2,048,834 international arrivals in 2019, where at least 276,592 visitors were here for meetings and business.
The sub-sector remains key in tourism receipts which last year grew 3.9 per cent to Sh163.56 billion.
The government is counting on the Kenya National Convention Bureau(KNCB) to position the country as a lead MICE destination.
Formed last year, the bureau is currently at an advanced stage of putting in place structures that will guide marketing of the country.
“We are currently establishing structures, functions and key tools that we are going to use to position Kenya as a MICE destination,” National Co-ordinator for the Bureau, Jacinta Nzioka-Mbithi, told the Star.
The bureau is keen to work with hotels, tourism stakeholders and government entities to increase the number of visitors into the country, with a keen eye on conference tourism.
KNCB targets to propel Kenya to the top 50 MICE destination globally and at least top two in Africa by 2022.
The International Congress and Convention Association(2018) report ranked the country at position 73 globally.
In 2018, Kenya hosted 31 international meetings and was ranked fourth in Africa (after South Africa, Morocco and Egypt) based on number of meetings held.