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Kenya At ITB


Kenya proves hard to sell at Berlin’s five-day tourism fair

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Mar 17, 2008

After five days of hectic activity, the International Tourism Exchange fair (ITB) ended in Berlin on March 9, with many of the 11,147 exhibitors saying they had achieved good results at the event.

But for the tourism officials of two countries — Kenya and Sri Lanka — it was an uphill struggle convincing the public that their trouble-torn countries were now safe for tourists.

For Kenya, the ITB could hardly have taken place at a less opportune moment, coming so soon after the violence that threatened to rip the country apart just a few weeks ago.

Desperate to kickstart its tourism industry again, Kenya dispatched a high-level delegation of politicians and senior tourism officials to Berlin with a message for the travel world — “Kenya is back in business and waiting to welcome tourists.”

Kenyan MP Najib Balala said in Berlin: “We are here to assure the world that Kenya is back and it’s safe, and that we are serious about getting the country back to normal.”

Dr Ongong’a Achieng, the Kenya Tourist Board managing director, backed up Balala. “We want to work on a positive image for the country. We know it will take a few months, but we are optimistic. We are now more prepared and united as a nation,” he said.

At the end of February, conflicting Kenyan parties agreed on a power-sharing deal to end the violence, which has cost hundreds of lives. It also resulted in mass holiday cancellations in January.

Since then, the nation’s tourism industry has announced it plans to spend $2.9 million on a “tourism recovery programme” aimed primarily at promoting Kenya in the key UK, US and German markets.

Kenyan officials say the programme will focus on trade and consumer advertising, promotional campaigns, press trips and travel agent familiarisation. Other measures such as waiving visas and shelving plans to hike safari park fees are also being considered.

At the same time, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, which already suffered a 12 per cent drop in international tourist arrivals in 2007, suffered another severe blow in January when several countries issued strict advisories against citizens travelling to the war-torn island.

Germany, the UK, Canada, Russia and Australia later updated the travel warnings, due to back-to-back bomb blasts and other sporadic violence in many parts of the country.

Several countries specified the parts of the country they considered dangerous, while others — notably Germany — warned against travel to “the whole of Sri Lanka.” Russia also urged its citizens to stay away from Sri Lanka in the wake of recurring violence.

Sri Lankan tourism officials in Berlin were assiduous in trying to allay fears, insisting that the country would soon be back to normal, but German travel operators remained sceptical, claiming it might take months, if not years, before travellers’ fears were calmed.

For Asia Pacific countries it was another story. Data collected by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the European Travel Commission (ETC) shows that the Asia Pacific continues to be the fastest growing inbound and outbound tourism region in the world.

International tourist arrivals in the region increased by more than 10 per cent last year after an eight per cent rise in 2006. Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Malaysia and Thailand generated over 70 million outbound trips between them.

Most Asian outbound trips, however, were to short-haul destinations. Only now, say Berlin travel experts, does Europe begin to attract growing numbers from different markets, as Asian travellers look beyond the region to new long-haul destinations.

This year’s ITB “partner country” was the Dominican Republic, which showed in Berlin it was eager to cast off its reputation for low-cost all-inclusive holidays by showcasing its rich cultural heritage and new upmarket facilities.

Some 130 delegates were sent to Berlin, along with 80 musicians and dancers. Deputy Tourism Minister Magaly Toribo said the Dominican Republic was anxious to convey an image in 2008 that went beyond white sandy beaches, and said the nation was investing strongly in upgrading tourism infrastructure.

The government has made great efforts to ensure that its main attractions remained sustainable, which was why large areas of the country had been included in a preservation plan comprising 19 national parks, 15 nature reserves and two marine sanctuaries, he said.

nationmedia.com

Kenya proves hard to sell at Berlin’s five-day tourism fair



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