I have heard countlessly, that the grass is not always greener on the other side (despite it appearing so most of the time), and I have come to accept it. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t jump over the wall and at least ask your neighbour how they make theirs look so green. Here is where this metaphor is going; in 2017, Kenya earned Ksh. 120 billion from tourism, with international tourist numbers hitting 1.4 million people, which represents an increase of 9.8 % compared to 2016’s visitor numbers.
This is an exceptional performance especially considering that 2017 was an election year, however, the big question is, is there room to do better? Certainly, for example, a country like South Africa had more than seven times Kenya’s tourist numbers in the same year, despite Kenya having the same potential to attract tourists with our sandy beaches, enviable weather, and diverse wildlife.
South Africa had 10.3 million foreign tourists in 2017 and Cape Town, in particular, was a trailblazer, registering 5.1 million arrivals at the Cape Town International Airport, with close to a million of those visitors being international arrivals.
The city also hosts the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, arguably the best music festival in Africa that has been in existence for 19 years. In the 2017 edition, 34,000 people from all corners of the world attended the festival, and with the pervasiveness of social media, that translates 34,000 phones, with multiple social media accounts beaming the best South Africa has to offer, to thousands more within their network. Can’t we do it too?
In Kenya, the Safaricom Jazz Festival, for instance, is now in its fifth year and has been growing year on year. Starting at the Ngong Race Course, the event has since moved to the Kasarani Stadium grounds to accommodate more people. The festival brings together a mix of local performers such as Nairobi Horns Project, Afrosync, Edward Parseen, Shamsi Music, Eddie Grey, James Gogo, Chris Bittok, Jacob Asiyo etc. and international acts like the legendary Hugh Masekela, BWB, Branford Marsalis, Manu Dibango, David Sanborn, Kunle Ayo, Jimmy Dludlu, Jonathan Butler, and Salif Keita, It is a spectacle that creates a fusion of sounds, styles and musical influences, which attracts throngs of music lovers who savor every single note, melody, and performance like it is the gospel truth.
Benefits of Festivals
Imagine the possibilities when such an event is opened up and marketed to the rest of the world, the benefits on Kenya’s tourism sector could be incredible. A 2016 study by researchers from the University of Florida, was done on the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of Aruba and Curacao, to investigate the impact of music festivals on tourism. It found that the festivals were a major factor in making tourists want to visit the islands and in retaining them for subsequent visits.
Additionally, the study found that the music festivals provide a unique opportunity for tourists to easily interact with locals; a factor that attracts vacationers looking for an experiential destination. The most interesting thing about the study is that when the researchers compared tourists who had come to the two islands specifically for the festivals, vs regular tourists; they found that the festival seekers had higher income levels, were more educated, spent more, stayed longer and a majority were planning to come back. Kenya too can enjoy these benefits, but if only we are intentional about attracting such tourists.
In South Africa, research has found that the Cape Town International Jazz Festival alone, generates approximately R158 million (Ksh. 1.2 billion) with 1059 jobs dependant on it, not considering its multiplier effect on other industries. Evidence continues to show the impact of such festivals; South Africa has up to 600 cultural festivals that contribute 2.9 % to the country’s GDP, creating over half a million jobs; a number that is equal to their mining sector. That’s according to research by the Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society based at North-West University in the USA.
What Can KTB Do?
For a start, the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) should consider marketing the Safaricom International Jazz Festival as a destination event for music lovers across the world. This will open up our tourism market even in times that are traditionally not considered peak seasons. For instance, since the jazz festival is a one-day event, KTB could build partnerships and offer festival ticket packages that include extras like a visit to the Nairobi National Park. Nairobi is the only city in the world with a game park… Even Cape Town cannot beat that.
The aim is to use the festival to attract more visitors and give them a reason to stay longer. Research has already shown that festival tourists are experiential; so it’s a good thing that we also have mountains/hills to be hiked (Aberdare, Ngong, Longonot, Elephant Hills, Mt Kenya etc.), Elephants to be adopted (the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and rivers to be kayaked (Sagana Rapids). We need to tie all these experiences to music festivals, in order to offer unique packages capable of competing with other countries.
Additionally, KTB can do promotional campaigns through local and international travel, lifestyle and music bloggers and mainstream media, in order to generate interest and awareness about what Kenya can offer in regards to music tourism. According to the Local Consumer Review Survey by BrighLocal 88 % percent of consumers read online reviews before purchasing from a local business.
When a tourist, who in most cases has no local knowledge, is looking for the next hottest destination to visit, they are likely to go checking online first. Hence, our online presence needs to be strong, when someone googles something like ‘best places to visit for music festivals in the world’ Kenyan content needs to be among the first 10 search results.
Safaricom spent 100 Million shillings on the Jazz Festival in the 2017-2018 circuit. Of which all the proceeds of 18 Million went to the Ghetto classics and this program is creating the next group of great jazz artists for Kenya. Imagine the possibilities if we made the Safaricom International Jazz festival to be a premier Jazz event in Africa, competing and complimenting the Cape Town Jazz Festival. Safaricom has put Kenya on the map with the Safaricom International Jazz Festival in February, the mini versions of the festival – the Safaricom Jazz Lounges and The International Jazz Day concert. The Safaricom International Jazz Festival in February this year had over 8,000 people and the Lounges also get good numbers.
Imagine the possibilities if the Kenya Tourism Board decided to promote the festival together with other attractions in Kenya, putting together an attractive package for music and travel enthusiasts! What would happen if they worked with airlines and hotels to give attractive packages to people who wanted to travel down to Kenya for the festival? Have you ever seen the packages for Cape Town Jazz? You will have FOMO and plan a trip. Its already on our list of places we must go.
Also, what if Kenya Tourism Board offered the international acts a chance to get to sample the best of what Kenya has to offer, imagine what would be the spillover effect when these famous jazz musicians talk about their experience of playing and experiencing the beauty of Kenya when they go home. They already talk about the impact of meeting the Ghetto Classics Kids and mentoring them during sessions organized by Safaricom, now they would get to talk not only about the beauty of the people but the beauty of the country as well. We need to think outside the box in terms of tourism and this is one way to do it. To encourage musical tourism which has financial numbers to support it. Music and its impact on tourism
Check out a short documentary we have done in partnership with Jazz Symphonic, which shows how the Safaricom International Jazz Festival has impacted the lives of some of the Jazz musicians and where they hope to see the festival in a few years.
Article by Gabriel Asili And Rayhab Gachango.