“We take tourism seriously,” said the Minister of Tourism & Wildlife for Kenya, the Hon. Najib Balala, during a media roundtable at last week’s USTOA Conference in Phoenix. “It’s now 10 percent of our GDP.”
The numbers coming out of the American market make Balala happy, mentioning that, “we are seeing a phenomenal growth. We have seen a major increase in numbers in the last year in the American market—in 2017, we had 114,000 arrivals, and from January to October of this year, we have 189,000 arrivals, so we expect to reach over 200,000 by the end of the year. The U.S. market is our number 1 market, and for 2018 we are optimistic that we will have a double-digit growth.”
The country is focusing on four pillars when it comes to tourism—marketing; product; investment; and infrastructure. During the roundtable discussion, Balala conversed in-depth about three of those pillars—product, investment and infrastructure.
Beachside, Wildlife & Culture
In terms of tourism product, Balala wants the U.S. consumer to know that travelers to Kenya can go on safaris—imagine viewing the annual wildebeest migration up-close—coupled with visits to magnificent beaches.
“The beach product was a bit tired,” said Balala, “so now we are encouraging people to build new hotels, and we have worked with the local government to clean the beaches and make sure that they are well-secured.
“We also realized that in the beach product, apart from just the beach itself and the hotels, we didn’t have more activities to excite the consumer, so we are developing products that will make the consumer go to the beach and unwind, but also do activities and go out and visit other places. We have national parks next to the beaches, so we are investing in those parks.
“We are also in the process of building waterfronts, including one in Malindi, which is going to be one of the biggest waterfronts that we are going to develop along a 373-mile coastline.”
Balala went on to say that although safari and the beach destinations are at the core of Kenya’s tourism, “other niche product that we are now introducing include culture, art and museums, sports, and specifically adventure sports—sky diving, for example, mountain climbing; we have national parks where we can do cycling, and we have introduced horseback riding in the national parks, which is very popular.”
Trains, Planes & Automobiles
Kenya has also invested heavily in its railway product, as well, according to Balala, debuting the Madaraka Express SGR train services between Nairobi and Mombasa (and vice-versa). What used to take 13 hours now takes 4.5 hours. The best part, however, is what Balala pointed to: “Every hour you stop at a national park, literally at the entry of the national park, and our tour operators have become very innovative as they now have cars that pick you up from the train station and take you to the safari and then take you back to the train station and you connect back with the city.”
The project is extending to Naivasha in the Rift Valley, located 93 miles from Nairobi, and then onward to Narok Town. “So in three years,” Balala explained, “the train will be ready from Nairobi to Naivasha to Narok, and then to Kisumu, where Lake Victoria is. Actually, the train from Nairobi to Naivasha will be ready in late 2019.”
The roads, too, are getting a facelift, with heavy investment in Mombasa, connecting the island of Mombasa to the rest of the coastline, “so,” said Balala, “you don’t have to go through the city.” Additionally, he pointed out, that “we have the other roads that connect now to Maasai Mara and other parts of the mountain area, the Central area.”
Another focal point of tourism has been the main airport in Kenya, because, as Balala mentioned, “The experience of the clientele starts at the airport itself—if they get frustrated in immigration or visa or anything, that is where you start hating the country.”
Brand-new is Terminal 1A, for Kenya Airways, and next year, Balala said, “will start the deployment of terminal B –1B, 1C and 1D, and it will be ready in the next three years, but the work will start in August 2019. Meanwhile, we are building a second runway to be able to attract the bigger planes, so as not to have the congestion of the one runway.”
Another important note that Balala brought up was the customer service at the airport, which the country is also working on. They are making sure that every staff that works at the airport goes through customer service training—“we have done that for 1,200 people who work at the airport.”
Committed to Security
Balala pointed out that one of the most important investments the government has undertaken is in security. “The government is investing heavily in security, and since 2015 there have not been any incidents in Kenya. In the border with Somalia, there have been a few incidents, but not in the cities or towns, particularly where tourists visit. Nairobi now is much safer than any other city in the country.”
Become a Kenya Specialist
For information on the Kenya Authorized Travel Specialist (KATS) Program, visit kats.recommend.com. There, you’ll find a general Kenya education program that will help familiarize you with all of the Kenya tourism products, as well as four modules focusing on Adventure Experiences in Kenya; Sustainable Kenya; Beyond the Wilderness; and Safaris in Kenya.
For more information on Kenya, visit ktb.go.ke.