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According to Najib Balala, Kenya’s cabinet secretary and minister of tourism, the country is experiencing growth in overall tourism, and officials are hoping to diversify the experience for visitors.
Balala met with media at the U.S. Tour Operators Association Annual Conference and Marketplace, held last month in Phoenix, to share some of the highlights related to his country’s tourism plan.
“We take tourism seriously in Kenya,” Balala said. “Tourism accounts for 10 percent of our GDP, and it creates 9 percent of employment. It creates jobs, and it creates wealth. I think I can say without bragging that tourism is listened to by the heads of state.”
Tourist arrivals from the U.S., which is Kenya’s largest international market, reached 114,000 in 2017. Last year, it rose to a record of 200,000.
“In 2008, Kenya had challenges, but we recovered fully by 2012,” Balala said. “But then we had some new security challenges. These have all been dealt with, and we decided to think differently. We created a national strategy — a blueprint with four pillars.”
The four pillars of Kenya’s tourism plan include: product enhancement, smart investments, improving infrastructure and marketing.
Balala said the first focus is on how to improve the core product.
“Safaris and beach stays are the main tourist experiences, but there are other niche products,” Balala said. “These opportunities include culture, arts, museums, sports and adventure activities, such as mountain climbing, skydiving, cycling and horseback riding in the national parks. Regional gastronomy is another draw.”
According to Balala, Kenya will be launching an initiative this month focused on improving the country’s coastal areas, including cleaning the beaches, making them more secure, renovating hotels and introducing new activities.
The Kenya government is also heavily focused on security throughout the country. Balala pointed out that there have been no major incidents near tourist centers since 2015 and that police forces have been greatly improved over the years.
When it comes to infrastructure, Kenya is investing in new rail lines and airport improvements. A new rail route shortens the trip from Nairobi to Mombasa from 14 hours to about 4.5 hours. That line stops every hour at the entrance to a different national park, and Balala says some tour operators are meeting clients there and taking them on safari.
Later this year, a new rail route will be opened to Naivasha, near the home of Masai Mara, and by 2023 there will be a line from Nairobi to Lake Victoria.
Kenya’s government is also heavily invested in airport improvements. Starting in 2019, there will be three new additions to the current Terminal 1 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. A completely new second terminal is expected to be added in the near future. Plus, plans are being developed to train all airport staff in hospitality.
Balala also pointed out that a “special status” agreement enables Kenya Airways to fly direct into JFK airport in New York five times a week in low season and daily in high season. And a new electronic visa system makes it faster and easier to arrange a visa to the country. (Also, visas are free for children under age 16.)
Finally, Balala said Kenya has plans for a “special marketing strategy” for the U.S. to be announced soon. Kenya also plans on conducting more trade roadshows and travel agent fams in 2019.
“Kenya is investing in the right things: infrastructure, security and to make sure that the experience for our visitors is memorable,” Balala said. “We’re also making sure that we market our country correctly and are focused on key markets such as the U.S.”
The DetailsKenya Tourism Boardwww.magicalkenya.com