Kenya’s tourism sector has always been susceptible to global and local trends that disempower the country and locals. From terrorism, increased insecurity to global recession, the country has seen quite a hit over the years. In the recent slump, about 4000 jobs were lost.
The Chinese are not going to offer the solution to our tourism problems. They are not spenders neither do we offer them something invaluable. Their economy lacks a huge middle class who would take holidays. In reality, the Chinese economy has also been on a low due to the global recession which has seen demand decrease. China is heavily reliant on exports to spur its growth.
The main solution to our tourism is Kenya. Just the same way Africa lags behind partly due to failure of trading with itself, Kenya does not promote its own tourism. The vagaries of the international market hit hard countries and institutions that rely on others and not themselves.
While globalization has taken root today and no country can sustainably thrive on its own, so much can be done to reduce the reliance on other people or countries. Tourism being the second foreign exchange earner for Kenya, so much should be done to insulate the country from global and local threats to its growth.
Firstly, the attitude by the hospitality community towards Kenyans must change. Today, you walk into many leading hotels and restaurants and the treatment is baffling in comparison to a white person. Basic things like serving the food, you evidently see the white person being assisted much faster. The thinking around many waiters for instance is that they can get a good tip from them. The reality is that fellow country men and women know their problems better including their low pay and long hours of work and give more tip than whites.
Secondly, package the industry for Kenyans. The prices for most hotels are beyond the reach of most Kenyans. The industry players have to come up with affordable and attractive packages to Kenyans. Too few Kenyans can afford, and those who can, decline to explore the charges of sh20, 000 a night and within that range.
Thirdly, use recognized brands like athletes and the sevens rugby team to market the country. Institutions like Brand Kenya are doing a lot of nothing apart from collecting salaries and commissions. These people do so much to marketing Kenya than established institutions, they need to be supported and branded to leverage on their fame and opportunity cost when they are out of the country doing their trade.
Fourthly, there is need to inculcate a saving culture. A saving culture among people is not just about using savings for investments. They can tangibly be used for vacation. In fact, many tourists save to come enjoy our facilities. They are quite indebted at home and this reduces their ability to spend as they wish. But they create the money and time to relax. This we must learn.
Fifthly, inculcate home stays. This is the practice where instead of tourists staying in hotels, we host them in our homes. This not only provides people with more income which will still find their way to the economy, but they learn our culture. The host communities can also learn from them.
Sixthly, conference tourism is an untapped potential. It does not make sense that there is no facility like Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) in Mombasa. Even if someone just wants to east from one being in Nairobi, creating another one in Mombasa will offer more eating avenues.
Tourism is really not just about attending an event or holiday and going home thereafter. It is a whole package where other commodities like artifacts and general supplies like recreational facilities and shops benefits.
It is certainly surmountable to think local and reinvigorate our tourism sector. The answers to our challenges should less be about others and more about us. Reliance on others has never achieved sustainable growth. The more the sector and stakeholders envision and act on the local potential, the better Kenya will grow and tangibly tell off outsiders.
The writer is a political blogger. Twitter @oleshitemi