How Kenya plans to beat African peers on US tourists

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Kenya has embarked on an aggressive campaign to grow the number of tourists visiting the country with a main focus on the US market.

This comes as the US remains the leading market source for international tourists to Kenya.

Over the weekend, the tourism ministry led by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) was in the US on a charm offensive mission to try and secure a bigger pie of US-Africa bound tourists.

The country took advantage of the United States (US) Travel Agents Association forum held in Chicago between September 13 and 14, to increase tourist numbers into the country.

The Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa (APTA) forum is the world’s largest meeting platform for travel agents. The forum normally attracts more than 200 travel agents who are committed to selling destinations in Africa.

According to KTB, participation in the forum will help position the country as a top of mind destination to the US trade selling Africa and thus provide Kenya with a competitive advantage over other African destinations.

The US market continues to top as Kenya’s tourist source market recording a 9.391 per cent growth in the 2019 half year (January-June) compared to the same period last year.

The market reported 110,668 arrivals up from 101,167 posted in the same period in 2018.

The direct flights from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to JFK International airport are expected to support tourism campaigns by the country.

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Commenting on Kenya’s participation, KTB Chief Executive Officer Dr. Betty Radier said that the forum was a great opportunity to market Kenya’s  ‘unique selling points’ and actively push the destination to a larger audience

“Through KTB, Kenya will be one of the lead participants at the national forum this year. This will help us increase our visibility as a destination. We will receive publicity on APTA’s online and offline platforms which will enhance a more effective distribution and sales system for Kenya” she said.

“For Kenya to remain competitive we need to profile our tourism in global forums, especially those that give us an opportunity to share Kenya’s top and signature products and promote destination Kenya to the big markets, the APTA forum will give us this opportunity” she added.

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Travel agents are unified by their specialty in selling Africa and can significantly influence the consumers’ choice of holiday destination as most consumers considering holidays book their travel through an agent.

According to the country’s tourism ministry, travel agents drive business to Kenya hence it is critical that they understand the unique selling propositions of Kenya so that they can sell the destination confidently.

At the forum, KTB focused on increasing the number of APTA members selling Kenya from the current 75 per cent to 90 per cent.

The engagement with the agents is expected to offer a great opportunity for them (agents) to learn new ways of promoting destination Kenya, so that they are well informed to recommend and sell more Kenya holidays to their clients.

“The agents will sell more Kenya holidays once they are trained on the destination’s unique selling points,” Radier said.

This year, the number of international tourists to Kenya is expected to grow by 10 per cent, according to Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala,despite a slight drop in the first half of the year.

Growth is expected to be boosted by a strong performance by the US market. Other well performing markets include France, China and Uganda, which was the second top source after the US.

The numbers are expected to be above 2.2 million up from 2,025,206 reported in 2018, the highest ever number of arrivals in the country’s tourism industry in history.

READ:Kenya’s tourism on the rise as numbers hit all-time high

“The US is our key market, we are also putting emphasis in the Chinese market and other key,” Balala told Journalists at a recent forum in Nairobi where the country launched  the Kenya Tourism Satellite Account, a tool for establishing the sector’s total contribution to the economy.

The Russian and Indian markets are also expected to boost numbers this year.

Kenya is also betting on a  deviation of European tourists from North Africa which has suffered political instability in the wake of the recent Arab spring.

The total number of international visitors in the first half year of 2019 was 921,090, a 0.7 per cent drop compared to 927,797 same period in 2018.

During the period, the US led as the top market source followed by Uganda, where arrivals grew 3.7 per cent to 103,177 up from 99,459. Tanzania came in third despite a 14 per cent drop to 92,340 from 107,411.

READ ALSO:KTB hunts for more tourists from the US

During the period January to June, Chinese tourists numbers to Kenya  grew slightly to close at 32,829 up from 32,620, official data by the Tourism Research Institute(TRI) show. France equally grew by 17.7 per cent to a total of 25,584 visitors compared to 21,737 last year.

Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, India and South Africa however dropped in the first half, partly blamed on the January 15, Dusit D2 terrorist attack.

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All these markets are expected to perform well in the second half according to the CS. He has however expressed concerns over the East Africa market.

“My worry is that probably the cross border numbers have not shown any positive increase from last year but we continue to monitor things,” Balala said, “We are hoping the eased movement across borders under the One Stop Border Posts initiatives will help flow of people.”

Kenya is betting big on the current political stability and heightened security to support the industry’s performance going forward.

Since the infamous hand-shake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his bitter rival Raila Odinga, the country has embarked on a nation healing journey that has brought peace across the country.

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Martin Mwita is a business reporter based in Kenya. He covers equities, capital markets, trade and the East African Cooperation markets.

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