The tourism industry has attracted hundreds of thousands to Kenya for decades. Whether it was the call of the wild beckoning visitors to our magnificent national parks – the birthplace of the safari, or the pristine white sandy beaches, the tourism industry has been a backbone of the Kenyan economy.
Recently we are seeing a new type of tourism rising, creating an influx of visitors that had not as yet been prevalent, the business tourists. For many years’ hotels, particularly high end luxury establishments, have focused largely on international tourists, the adventurers and those wanting to experience the magic of the “Cradle of mankind”.
While they all boasted high end conference rooms and business centers, they weren’t often the hotels priority. However, after a tumultuous few years, marred with terrorist attacks and general insecurity, the tourism industry took a huge hit.
2015 saw a 25% fall in visitor numbers in the first five months alone – 284,313 from 318,278 in 2014. This led to multiple campaigns by the Kenya Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism to help increase domestic tourism. Their aim was to get Kenyans to travel in Kenya.
Why? Because we had to!
According to the economy survey in 2016, tourism earnings declined by 2.9% from Sh87.1billion to Sh84.6billion. The number of beds occupied decreased by 6.4% and the number of international conferences decreased by 9.5%. But local conferences and delegates increased by 4.0% and 7.4% respectively.
While insecurity may have scared off our international allies, Kenyans took up the mantle. #MagicalKenya because a call to action and #TembeaKenya was our anthem. We travelled, we posted, we shared and the world noticed. By 2017 the tourism industry contributed 294.6 billion (approximately 3.7% of the GDP). This is expected to rise by 5.2% in 2018 and by 2028, the number is expected to reach Sh515billion.Of that, domestic tourism generated 62% of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2017.
While we are glad international tourism is on the rise, we have learnt that it isn’t our only option. Other than South Africa, Kenya is rated as the second most popular country for business conferences in Africa. And the industry is finally noticing.
Nairobi has seen an influx of new hotels that cater, while not exclusively but geared towards, professional visitors. And they are being recognized for their efforts globally. This month DusitD2 was awarded East Africa’s best business hotel of 2018. Held in Bali, the luxury hotel awards seek to recognize luxury hotels for their world class facilities and services to their guests. And it’s not the first time they have won, as this is the third time they have scooped the prize.
They aren’t the only ones. The recently opened Tamarind Tree Hotel on Langata road is proving that business tourists are also their priority. While they could have purely capitalized on their proximity to the national parks and Carnivore, they have marketed themselves towards business tourists in the form of the fantastic modern conference facilities that fit small groups to 250 people.
We cannot truly guarantee that Kenya will not be thrown into political unrest or that an attack won’t trigger international travel advisories again, but what we can prepare for is a way to recover the losses we would get from international tourists.
The campaigns promoting domestic tourism and the success of the business hotels have shown the Kenyan tourism industry that we are not just one thing. We are not just the Safari destination, or the beach, or even Mount Kenya excursions. Rather we are a country with countless opportunities and the ability to pull ourselves up from anything.