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Competition, inadequate budgets undermine Kenya's tourism

South Africa's surge threatens Kenyan tourism

May 17, 2011

The Kenya Tourism Board faces a daunting task in marketing the country as one of the best tourism destinations in the world mainly because of stiff competition from other African countries and inadequate budgets.

KTB gets only Sh1.4 billion annually for its operations. Compare this to countries like South Africa which are investing more than Sh10 billion in tourism annually.

The just concluded annual INDABA Tourism Trade Show in Durban, South Africa, provided yet another opportunity for KTB to clearly define emerging trends, competition and challenges which must be tackled head on for Kenya's tourism to thrive. INDABA is the largest tourist trade show on the African continent and it's organized by the South African Tourism annually in Durban. Most of the exhibitors are from African countries although a high number of players in the sector from European countries including Britain the United States and Germany also attended this year's show.

All the East African states and those from South African Development Corporation (SADAC) participated in the event. Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Angola, Nigeria, Botswana were among the African countries with a large presence at the show.

South Africa is now Kenya's greatest threat in tourism but other countries in the east African region like Tanzania and Rwanda are staging a fight for the tourism market in the region. Tanzania in particular has recorded impressive number of tourists visiting the country, just more 4 million visitors annually.

It emerged during the INDABA show that South Africa and Kenya are targeting the same markets to increase their tourist numbers. South Africa is eyeing to increase the number of visitors from other African countries including Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of Congo, among other areas are were too seeking to market Kenya as a tourist destination within the same African countries.

Boosted by the success in hosting the World Cup, sound infrastructure and a wide range of wildlife, South Africa is currently receiving more than 8.5 million visits annually. Kenya gets 1.4 millions every year, according to last year's figures."Our main constraint now is money. When you look at what South Africa is investing in this sector and you will realize we have a lot to do", says KTB director of marketing Jennifer Opondo.

Opondo and her KTB team put up a spirited campaign for Kenya at INDABA 2011 and despites challenges, Kenya's stands attracted great interests from tour firms, investors and hoteliers among other exhibitors at the event.

The board and a team of more than 20 local based tourism players used the opportunity in South Africa to tell the world the country's unique attributes. The local exhibitors included the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Airways, hotels and tour firms.

The key challenge for KTB was distinguishing Kenya from South Africa because both countries largely rely on wildlife and coastal tourism.

Opondo says Kenya has in the last one year opened 18 new marketing offices worldwide but adds that funds are the board's greatest undoing.

KTB's new marketing offices are located in South Africa, Japan, India, Emirates, Canada, Australia, Gulf region, Russia and Poland among other areas. South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania have also set base is some of these countries.

KTB is also seeking to have strong presence in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and plans are underway to move to Brazil, China and the West and Northern parts of Africa.

South African Tourism CEO Thwandiwe January Mclean said they were targeting these same markets to help them double the numbers of tourists heading to their country. "If we had an adequate budget, we would turn round the tourism sector in a very short while and make it the real engine towards achieving Vision 2030", Opondo says Tourism visits, she says, can double if KTB received more funding. Thwandiwe said she was happy with Kenya's participation at the INDABA because the two countries have a lot to share.

Opondo said the board will work with the media, tour operators and other partners in the new markets to strengthen the countries fight for its place on the tourism table."We do not want to rely on our traditional markets and that is why we are looking at new areas like the African market hence our strong presence here at the Indaba where we have more than twenty key players in the sector exhibiting our products", Opondo says.

KTB says Kenya is unique because of several issues key of which is the hospitality of Kenyans and a wide variety of wildlife to add on a warm coastline.

She cited the unique Western Kenya Tourism Circuit which she said is home to diverse cultures and the world's best athletes. Opondo teamed up with deputy high commissioner to South Africa Hellen Gichuhi and KTB's regional marketing manager in Charge of Africa Fred Okeyo to outline measures they were putting in place to strengthen the sector.

"We can no longer rely on Masai Mara, Tsavo and Amboseli as flagships because the sector now demands product enrichment. Tourists who have been to this parks will not come back if you have nothing new to offer", Opondo says.

KTB says good infrastructure including roads and airports, telecommunication, and mobile phones coupled with new tourism attractions are the key to sustaining Kenya on the global tourism radar.

During the INDABA show in Durban, South Africa displayed a rich menu of tourism products with all its nine provinces exhibiting different items.

Tourism's total contribution to the economy of South Africa is on the increase from R189 billion in 2009 and with new strategies South African Tourism is targeting to earn R499 billion by 2020 and to create 225 000 new jobs by 2020.

KTB's Okeyo who is in charge of marketing in the African region said they are targeting African tourism market because it is more diversified, sustainable, reliable and resilient and that is why KTB targets regional tourism."We have the widest variety of wildlife, a more warm coastline with rich marine life protective coral reefs along our coastline which are not anywhere else", said Okeyo.

Gichuhi says Kenya is turning out to be a major destination even for tourists from South Africa with more than 34,000 tourists from the country visiting Kenya last year. "If you look at the interest outsiders have in Kenya, then we as a country should strive to built a more stable and reliable society so that we stop undermining the confidence people have in our country", the envoy said.

Details from KTB indicate that more than 17 new tourist hotels are to be put up in the country. The new Hotel Groups now interested in Kenya include the Radissan, Sankara, Crown Plaza and Ole Sereni. Opondo said the New Tourism Bill which is awaiting presidential ascent will spur growth in the sector.

Currently the United Kingdom tops as the leading source of tourists to Kenya followed by USA, Italy, Germany, India and then South Africa which is leading among the emerging new markets for Kenya.

The 18 new offices opened by KTB will provide an effective presence to enable marketers to be close to the players in the sector including tour firms. "Tourism is a relationship industry and that is why actual presence will help to build the confidence because we have already achieved positive response in areas like South Africa where we opened up a new office", Opondo said.

KTB hopes that with increased funding, an enabling environment including stability in Kenya itself, ongoing reforms in all sectors and joint efforts by players in the sector, tourism in the country will achieve unimaginable success in a short period.

South Africa's surge threatens Kenyan tourism
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