Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala is upbeat the sector will make a strong come back this year, coming from a challenging 2019 which recorded mixed performances.
In an exclusive interview with the Star on ‘2020 outlook’, Balala expressed confidence, projecting a more than 10 per cent growth.
One of his biggest plans this year is to ensure product development and diversification by all industry players.
Extensive training by hotels, lodges and service sector is another top priority for the CS who is passionate about sustainable tourism, with his track record speaking volume having spearheaded the sector to a new record of 2,025,206 international arrivals in 2018.
It was the first time the country received more than two million visitors.
“What we need to focus on is a product at the Coast and services across the tourism sector. We need a lot of training to be done for our staff in the private sector. Anybody coming from school will get the basics, the real training is on the job,” Balala said.
He, however, expressed satisfaction with new developments in parks and lodges.
“I want to congratulate the lodges that have done well particularly in northern Kenya and in Maasai Mara. They have upgraded their services to five Star, very impressive,” Balala pointed out.
“ I have been to Loisaba, I have been to Mount Kenya as well. I am very impressed with the development in those areas,” he said.
Continued marketing campaigns are also in Balala’s bucket- list this year with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) remaining a key marketing agency for destination Kenya.
The newly formed Kenya National Convention Bureau (KNCB) is also expected to market Kenya as a top Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) destination.
“The bureau will focus on strengthening Kenya’s position as a preferred meeting destination and enlist support for regrowth of the incentive travel by corporates in key source markets, “Jacinta Nzioka-Mbithi, National Co-ordinator for the bureau told the Star.
Target markets for 2020
The US remains the biggest contributor to the country’s tourism sector and the ministry is keen to continue growing the numbers from this key market, especially with continued direct flights between Nairobi and New York by national carrier-Kenya Airways.
Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and South Africa also remain on the radar of the tourism ministry.
The ministry has also developed strategies for the Russian and Indian markets which are expected to boost numbers.
“The American market is still growing, that is our key market, we are also putting emphasis in the Chinese market where we have a strategy for the market,” Balala affirmed.
What will support the sector
Balala is banking on political stability, security and ongoing infrastructure development across the country to support the growth of the sector.
“I hope nothing happens (terrorism) and there is political stability. Those are the two conditions that tourism thrives on,” he said.
“Slowly the infrastructure is getting done, for example, the Mombasa infrastructure, Dongo Kundu is coming up in the next two years it should be ready, and then dualling of the Malindi road, also starting in March,” he said.
“The government is investing heavily in infrastructure which has started paying off,” he added.
The year that was
2019 has been challenging, according to the CS who had projected a 10 per cent growth compared to 2018.
His projection in August had placed 2019’s expected arrivals at 2.2 million but terrorism effects in January (Dusit D2) and other attacks in Northern Kenya later in the year are likely to have a negative effect on this year’s overall performance.
Foreign tourism earnings were however on the growth according to the Tourism Research Institute (TRI).
Earnings for the first nine months of the year stood at Sh115.1 billion up from Sh114.4 billion in a similar period in 2018, which was Sh42 billion shy from the 2018 full-year receipts of Sh157 billion.
With the December holidays and the New Year being peak seasons, especially for the domestic market, earnings are likely to go up.
“The reports I am getting so far is that Malindi has done very well in domestic tourists, Diani has done very well with international holidaymakers, Mombasa has also done very well with domestic tourism. We are happy,” Balala said.
He has however expressed concerns over global economic downtimes witnessed in 2019.
He has challenged hotels at the Coast to remain focused this year.
”The beaches are trying to survive. We have not recovered the beach destination yet, we are only 50 per cent of our best times of 2011-2012 but hopefully with this good season on both international and local tourism, I hope they will have enough courage to start investing back,” he said.
“And not just painting hotels and repainting them, we need new products on the beach,” he added.
On 2019 growth, the CS expects growth of between seven and 10 per cent and a full recovery this year with numbers expected to go beyond 2.2 million on international arrivals.
Uganda remains a key regional tourist source according to official data. Visitors from the neighboring country grew 6.2 per cent to 161,963 in the first nine months, compared to 152,481 the previous year.
“It has been a tough year but it is globally and Kenya is also affected but we all remain optimistic of a strong performance this year,” Balala said, “I wish everyone a fruitful 2020.”
by MARTIN MWITA