For the last few days, I have been a guest of the wonderful people at Kenya Tourism Board. As a regional travel writer, I have been accorded the opportunity to work with different tourism boards in the region and I must say this has opened my eyes to the vast potential of the tourism sector in this region as well the challenges it faces.
Every now and then I pick lessons that I enjoy sharing with my readers with the hope that they are picked up by the concerned people; be it policy makers or the common mwananchi. During the various familiarization trips that I get to be part of, I don’t just look at the tourism products on offer but the numerous linkages around the sector that all need to be worked on for things to work smoothly.
As Kenya prepared for its annual Magical Kenya Tourism Expo, a group of journalists were taken around the vast country to experience the different tourism products it has to offer. I have been on such trips before courtesy of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) and I seem to have noted a pattern. As they plan the itinerary, they always make it a point to show the hosted media something about the infrastructure that connects these tourism spots.
For example, some years back when they hosted a few of us from just East Africa, they made sure that we used the overnight bus from Nairobi to Malindi so that we could tell the story of how there are cheaper ways for one to move from Nairobi to the coastal towns to enjoy the beach life. They even argued that a visitor from another East African can save the money that would have gone towards an air ticket from Nairobi to Malindi, to be used on other activities like having a longer stay enjoying the white sandy beaches of Diani.
They have also made sure that on those trips, the hosted media get to sample some of the domestic flights that fly out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airport to the far off corners of the country where the beaches and the wild game can be found. This being 2018, there was no way they were to miss showing off the imposing Standard Gauge Railway train.
So on one chilly morning we woke up and drove to Syokimau train station and enjoyed a very smooth ride from Nairobi to Emali from where we connected to Amboseli national park which is famous for its majestic elephants and the breathtaking view of the Kilimanjaro Mountain. Accessing the train gives you that ‘airport like’ feel with thorough security checks and all the glamour of the train station.
Later on during the tourism expo itself, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. NajibBalala as well as the CEO of KTB, Dr Betty AdderoRadier, both kept mentioning the significance of the SGR train towards tourism in Kenya. For cutting down the travel time between Nairobi and Mombasa by half, the train has pumped new blood into the veins of the coastal tourism especially for domestic tourists. One can say that the train brought the coast much closer to Nairobi.
The big point here is that it is one thing to have great tourism products and another thing to have easy access to them by the people who need to get there. For example the growth of Rwandair has meant that tourists from several parts of the world that are served by the airline can now find an affordable and direct flight to the land of mountain gorillas. It is along the same lines that Tanzania is now reviving its own airline so as to be able to bring in more people to the land of the Serengeti. I must point out though that Kenya and Tanzania have a rather robust domestic flights infrastructure and fleets to match.
Also as we were moving around Kenya, the president and other officials were in New York doing all they can to publicise the fact that very soon, Kenyan Airways will have direct flights from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to JFK in New York.
Rwandair will also soon join them at this. Even where national airlines are not involved, having good airports can result in chartered plane services doing brisk business in the same areas. There is only so much marketing that one can do if it remains that tourism sites are hard to access. The role of infrastructure cannot be overstated.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.