Exclusive Interview – Najib Balala – Minister for Tourism – Kenya
Kenya is back at ITB Berlin this year with an even more varied offering than in past editions, shining a very positive light on the future of the nation’s tourism offering. We asked Tourism Minister Najib Balala just what we can see at their stand.
We have diverse tourism products and services catering for different types of clientele. This is an opportunity to reassure travel agents of Kenya’s resilience and vibrancy in the tourism business.
What is your message to the world’s travel agents and tour operators present at ITB?
That Kenya is ready for business, the operational environment is conducive with improved infrastructure, investment opportunities, incentives and support programmes, and above all the warmth of the Kenyan People. Travel agents should put Kenya on the top of their sales list thanks to the attractive packages and varied tourism product offerings, catering for different needs of a varied clientele.
You recently released your 2017 tourism industry performance report against the backdrop of the ongoing implementation of a new Tourism Masterplan and a Tourism Marketing Strategy which you developed in 2017. Can you give us a précis of how tourism is progressing in your nation?
Kenya grew stronger in 2017 as a destination brand following positive visibility and endorsement it received through global accolades such as the World Travel Awards’ declaration of Kenya as the world’s best safari destination. This was achieved despite a busy electioneering season that threatened to slow down tourism activities.
Kenya’s tourism sector recorded a double-digit rise in earnings in 2017 to record just under KSh. 120 billion (approx. €962m) in tourism revenues. This denotes a 20.3% growth in review compared to 2016 when the tourism sector earned KSh. 99.69 billion. The strong growth in tourism receipts was underpinned by a 9.8% growth in total international arrivals into Kenya by air, sea and cross border in 2017 to 1,474,671 arrivals compared to 1,342,899 arrivals in 2016.
The increase in arrivals to Kenya outpaced the estimated global growth in tourism numbers, according to the latest United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism report which indicates that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide increased by 7% to reach a total of 1.32 billion in 2017.
Most of Kenya’s source markets recorded impressive growth in 2017. The United States of America (USA) remained Kenya’s leading source market, growing by 17% to top 114,507 arrivals. The US market contributed 11.8% of arrivals. It was followed by the United Kingdom with an 11.1% share of arrivals, which also grew by 11.1% to 107,078 arrivals. Uganda came in third with a share of 6.4%, closely followed by India with a contribution of 6.2%. China closed the list of the top five performers with a share of 5.5% contribution to the total arrivals in 2017. In terms of share of arrivals by region, Europe contributed 36% of arrivals.
What have been the key contributing factors to your nation’s success on the tourism front?
The launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway coupled with increased air connectivity has greatly improved access to tourism attractions. Furthermore, the opening up of new properties and the entrance of more international brands into Kenya’s hospitality industry has greatly expanded our capacity in both quality hotel beds and in meetings and conferencing facilities. It is important for us to let the world know that a Kenyan safari does not happen only during the great wildebeest migration into Maasai Mara; it’s an all-year experience. Kenya offers a warm climate, tempered with cool sea breezes ideal for passive and active relaxation for tourists of all ages.
Photo: Najib Balala – Minister for Tourism – Kenya