In this interview with the managing director, Kenya Tourism Board, Mr. Muriithi Ndegwa at the just concluded Magical Kenya Travel Expo (MKTE) in Diani, he unveiled the positive impacts of KTB in placing Kenya on tourism map of Africa as a preferred destination.
What is the motive and vision behind the Magical Kenya Travel Expo (MKTE)?
Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) is actually interested in seeing that Kenya gets back to the growth projection in term of increase in the tourists number coming to Kenya. To also ensure that Kenya remains a good brand and well known, that is our motive behind all the activities lined up for MKTE and specifically to bring in the hosted buyers to see for themselves that Kenya is open for business and also interact with our local trade.
Beside MKTE, what are the other activities that are lined up for the year and coming years?
First and foremost, we started with the hosting of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, we also hosted the president of the USA, Barrack Obama, they are parts of the major activities to raise the brand profile of Kenya as a destination and also to show that indeed Kenya is safe for business for the international community.
Again, we brought the fifth edition of MKTE to the coastal part of Kenya for the first time because the coast is an area in Kenya that is having a little bit of challenge, so as to rebrand and showcase the region as a lovely place to visit.
Likewise, the Pope will be visiting the Sub-Sahara part of Africa later this year and precisely to Kenya on November 25-27. It is important to state that the proposed visit of the Pope is a true endorsement of Kenya as a brand. The Africa Travel Association (ATA) will be having their 40th Annual General Congress in Kenya with over 500 visitors who comprise travel agents and tour operators marketing Africa in the USA, coming to meet with the local trade in Kenya.
In December, Kenya will be hosting another major event, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with about 7,000 delegates. Also, we participated at World Travel Market (WTM) in London (It ended on Thursday) with about 50 trades comprising hoteliers, travel agents and tour operators. At the same time, we shall be visiting Nigeria later in the year to further promote Kenya as a good destination.
Is there any positive development on the country’s tourism arising from the efforts of KTB in recent time?
We have been witnessing some good developments. For instance, Lufthansa German Airlines will recommence direct flight from Frankfurt to Nairobi as a result of our pro-activeness. Of course, this will further boost our tourism sector and increase the influx of our international arrival from Germany and neighbouring countries. We held a successful event in Dubai recently under the auspices of Wakanow.com, a Nigeria-based online travel operator with good link in Dubai as an avenue to explore the Middle East travel market.
Kenya is fast becoming a reputable Meeting, Conference, Incentive and Events (MICE) destination in Africa, how do you intend to sustain this development?
A couple of years ago, we believed that it is important for us to diversify our tourism offer having been known as a safari destination globally. One of the products that we identified is MICE which the government and the private sector have keyed into. Presently, Kenya was ranked second in Africa as far as MICE are concerned by the ICCA. For us to maintain the standard and sustain the good development, the government is not relenting on the expansion of our MICE facilities within the country.
The expansion of the MICE facilities will not be limited to Nairobi alone but involves Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu. This is a product that is growing and we shall not relent in investing in conference facilities by the government and the private sector to ensure that we have good MICE facilities to continue our leverage on the trend.
What has been the fallout from the joint partnership between your country, Uganda and Rwanda?
The motive behind this is we realised that joint marketing will help the three countries simply because if we look at Africa’s contribution to global tourism it is a peanut, imagine, 53 – 55 million visitors out of about 1.1 billion that is a drop in the ocean. This is the main reason why people are allowed freely between the three countries is to travel even without international passport. With National identity cards or voters cards in the case of Uganda, people are allowed free entries into the countries without any difficulties.
What influenced the decision of Lufthansa Airlines to resume flight operations to Kenya?
Yes, KTB initiated a discussion with Lufthansa on the need to come back to Kenya at the ITB held in Berlin in March this year. From what they told us, the airline stopped flying into Kenya about 14 years ago on the ground that they wanted to concentrate on business destinations and at that time, Kenya is more or less a leisure market.
That prompted a trip to Germany in April to Lufthansa head office where we were able to analyse the great improvement with the expansion project at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, tourism growth in recent years and the ways Kenya is changing as a preferred destination in Africa with high level of security measure in place. After the meeting, they indicated that they would come back in 2016 and they later contacted us that they are coming back early 2015.
What informed the recent introduction of the e-visa by your government?
The e-visa is a very positive development for it gives comfort to apply for your visa anywhere so far you have access to internet. It means it will help us to reach out to wider places. Following the implementation of the e-visa application for all the nationals visiting Kenya, the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of national government has since reviewed this process and decided that they will run both the e-visa platform and the manual platform concurrently, until further notice when the e-visa must have been fully harmonised. This is not to deprive those that do not understand English the right of getting their visas with ease as the e-visa is presently available only in English.
What is KTB’s view on the recent downturn of international tourists’ arrival to the country?
I think the right thing to say is that indeed we are about 18 per cent down, but the truth of the matter is that the number may not tell the real story as the figure has to do with the international arrivals captured from Nairobi and Mombasa airports. If you look at the cross border which we have not announced, the number of traffic keep increasing especially from Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries.
Again, looking at the occupancy rates in the hotels, it shows that there is increase on the inflow of visitors to the country compared to two or three years ago. Looking at the forth coming events in Kenya, it means the numbers of visitors to Kenya will be on the high side.
What is your view on the Africa open skies?
If we look at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), I will start with Chicago convention in 1964, clearly looking at their own national airlines, African Union later came together through Yamusokoro decision that by certain date all African countries should have liberalised our airways unfortunately, that did not come to materialise.
In January this year at the African Union Heads of States meeting, about 12 countries signed a declaration that by 2017, they will liberalise, they are opening their airways, Kenya is one of the countries and we also have Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia and others. Of course, they are big countries in Africa and this will benefit the tourism sector greatly and improve the economy.