Exclusive interview: Hon. Najib Balala EGH – Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife – Kenya
Kenyan tourism in 2019 saw improvement both in terms of the number of tourist arrivals in the country and also the revenue the country received. We asked the Hon. Najib Balala EGH – Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife – Kenya to tell us a little more.
The number of tourists grew by 1.167% from the previous year while revenues increased by about 4% which was significant improvement.
The tourists came in for different reasons but key among them was for leisure purposes. The destination is rich in leisure products including a beautiful landscape, nice weather and wildlife and it is therefore no surprise that most people prefer the destination to spend their holidays.
A significant number toured the destination for business purposes pointing to the increased interest in the destination for the new tourism trend of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE). Not only this, the country also hosted a number of international business meetings in 2019 such as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in November at Nairobi. Other tourists either came in to visit their families, or came for educational or medical purposes.
The United States maintained its position as our main source market growing by 9% with 245,437 arrivals, followed by Uganda which grew by 5.1% to reach 223,010 tourists then Tanzania. Other top growing markets were France, China, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi, Austria, and Spain.
What are the key themes of your presence at ITB Berlin?
Conservation and sustainability. The world is increasingly embracing sustainability in business. Kenya’s tourism sector, a major contributor to the economy of the country, is focusing and identifying viable ways of making the tourism business sustainable.
Beach cleaning programmes and regulating beach activities aim to improve on the beach product, one of the key products that Kenya is known for. Already, hotels and government agencies have continuous beach cleaning exercises to make the beach more welcoming for water sports.
Major threats to wildlife include habitat destruction / degradation / fragmentation, overexploitation, poaching, pollution and climate change. The National Wildlife Strategy 2030 highlights Sustainability and Governance as one of the key pillars of focus. This is to ensure the coordination, effective implementation and sustainability of wildlife conservation in Kenya. Among the key developments in the wildlife conservation include:
Ivory Ban. Kenya has been firm on the war against poaching to protect endangered animals such as elephant and rhino sought after for ivory and horns. Kenya has disposed the largest stockpile ivory at Nairobi National Park and subsequently China’s ban on ivory in 2018 is positive news to Kenya as poaching rates are expected to drop drastically. This has led to significant decrease in poaching of elephants and rhinos in the country. Just recently, a Ugandan man was arrested over smuggling ivory in the country proving Kenya’s zeal in the fight against game-hunting.
Plastic Ban. Kenya set an example in conservation of the environment through the ban on plastics in 2017. Dubbed the world’s toughest moratorium, the ban has reduced the number of plastics getting into the Indian Ocean waters posing a real threat to marine life. Kenya has stepped up efforts on harnessing the blue economy and plastic ban is one of the success stories towards this goal.
Kenya has made great milestones in terms of sustainable infrastructural development
Wildlife conservation. Kenya is home to one of the largest populations of rhinos in Africa. It has only two remaining female northern white rhinos, whose species is on the brink of extinction after the last male died in March. Kenya is a pioneer of the sanctuary approach, placing rhino in fenced-off areas under the close watch of armed rangers equipped with thermal imaging cameras and drones.
Product diversification and new experiences. Kenya is expanding its bucket list of known products (beach and wildlife) by introducing and packaging other experiential products such as extreme sports and adventure.
Kenya recently unveiled 15 facilities that met the criteria of innovation, creativity and authentic offering, which marked the beginning of a journey of delivering diverse tourism experiences. The programme is a key milestone in transformation of tourism products and experiences to cater for the diverse needs of the clientele.
How is tourism infrastructure evolving in Kenya? What’s new?
Kenya has made great milestones in terms of sustainable infrastructural development, such as the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway and major roads and airports. There is already an expansion plan for the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which is the main entry point to the country. Improved transport means that more destinations will be more opened up and this goes a long way in growing not only the popular but also the less explored destinations within the country.
The development of tourism anywhere very much relies on the development of appropriate infrastructure, which services the needs of a tourists and encourages investment in the sector.
The private sector plays a pivotal role in the development of tourism infrastructure which requires heavy investment in wide-ranging and diverse activities. It is the private businesses who actually drive the tourism industry since it is them who builds most of the infrastructure such as accommodation, restaurants, built-up attractions, tours and transport.
Confidence and interest in the destination has seen a significant increase in the number of hotels and resorts coming up. Some of them are locally owned while others are international chains. Just recently, international hotel chain Radisson Blu Hotels opened up their third branch in Kenya, the Radisson Blu Hotel and Residence, Nairobi Arboretum proving the growing confidence in the destination for tourism investment.
Photo: Hon. Najib Balala EGH – Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife – Kenya