East Africa Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie is on a whistle stop tour of several United Kingdom and United States cities, some of Kenya’s key tourist source markets, on a reassurance mission to attract more visitors to the country.
Mrs Kandie started off by meeting prominent tour operators and travel agents in London, among them representatives of Tui Travel, the British charter firm which was recently in the eye of the storm following its decision to pull holidaying Britons out of Mombasa.
The pull-out came in the wake of the issuance of negative travel advisories by the UK to its citizens against visiting some places in the Coast.
Mrs Kandie also took time to conduct a number of interviews with influential British media houses including BBC and travel publications.
Some of other tour operators who gathered at Kenya’s High Commission offices at 45 Portland Place, represented resorts across Kenya and were keen to know what the country was doing to win back visitors from Europe.
“We are fixing the security challenges, have reduced airport landing fees, reduced park entrance fees, and offering a range of tax related incentives to attract both the local and foreign traveller,” was the refrain of Mrs Kandie’s message at every stop.
She acknowledged that Kenya, like many other countries in the world, was struggling with the challenge of terrorism but expressed confidence that the country would overcome the problem and see the resilient tourism sector bounce back.
“We have invested heavily in the security sector. We are resourcing the police service with equipment and personal. We have also announced a stimulus package and a recovery programme and campaign to revive the industry,” Mrs Kandie told her audience in London.
She said while the country was diversifying her product range and source markets; Europe and America still remain traditional valued markets.
Mrs Kandie praised some of the European markets whose governments have not issued travel warnings and hoped that others like the UK who did would revise them soon.
She also lauded charters like Condor, who have increased the frequency of their flights into Kenya as key pillars of the recovery efforts.
Among the initiatives to boost the sector include a domestic campaign dubbed Tembea Kenya and an online effort ‘Why I love Kenya’, an endorsement campaign on social media.
The tour operators urged the Kenya government to consider shifting more domestic flights to JKIA from Wilson Airport to ease transfers of tourist from entry point into Kenya and their final destinations.
They also wanted Malindi Airport to be quickly expanded to handle bigger air craft from London.
Mrs Kandie, who is accompanied by Kenya Tourism Board managing director MuriithiNdegwa, will hold a series of meetings in New York on Sunday and Monday before winding up at Washington DC, where she will meet tour operators, speak to the US media and hold discussions with potential investors in the tourism industry.
Mrs Kandie is expected to conclude her tour by attending the ongoing Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, a major world cultural fete which exhibit different cultures from across the globe annually.
The exhibition, which is staged at the famous Washington Mall, attracts more than 1.5 million visitors every time it is held.
“The Smithsonian event provides us with the opportunity showcase our rich cultural heritage as part of our tourism product diversification strategy,” she says.
While acknowledging that tourists’ numbers have dropped, she was confident that the situation was improving. She cited the success of recent high-level conferences in Nairobi.
The African, Caribbean and Pacific countries conference brought together more than 500 delegates including ministers and the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) which has concluded at the UNON offices with more than 1500 delegates from across the globe including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
The success of Kenya’s sovereign bond which was oversubscribed four times, she said, is another example the world has confidence in Kenya.