Players in the tourism industry have been advised to embrace diversification of products in a bid to build a more resilient tourism economy in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Tourism Principal Secretary (PS) Safina Kwekwe said stakeholders need to diversify their tourism products to meet new market demands in the wake of the pandemic.
Kwekwe said Covid-19 impact on the tourism industry is ‘mind boggling’ as business people were left sailing deep into uncharted waters.
She said tourism is critical to the country’s economic diversification drive and that her ministry is committed to support new ideas and innovative initiatives to strengthen the role of the sector.
The PS was speaking when she toured the sacred Kaya Kinondo forest in Kwale County during a tree planting campaign as part of celebrations to mark World Tourism week.
The PS was accompanied by Kenya Convention Bureau Chief Executive Officer Jacinta Nzioka and Ministry of Tourism Secretary for Administration Michael Tialal.
Kwekwe said Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the country’s heavy dependence on foreign tourists from the traditional source markets of Western Europe.
“There is a need to diversify tourism products by developing new attractions to entice visitors to other parts of the country away from beach and safaris for example promoting cultural tourism,” she said.
She said cultural, food, festival and sports tourism is the way to go so as to complement the long standing safari and beach holiday products and attract more visitors.
She said, “We don’t want foreign and domestic tourists to appreciate the beauty of the beaches only but we want them to enjoy other activities and increase their length of stay.”
The PS said the country has a lot to offer in terms of tourism and called on the stakeholders to think outside the box by diversifying through events such as cultural and sports tourism.
Kwekwe appreciated that tourism in the coastal region is not only about pristine sandy beaches but is home to sacred kaya forests which are nature based and have a rich history which could attract tourists.
She noted that the government was making efforts to revive the tourism industry which had been hard hit by the pandemic hence their mission to identify domestic tourism sites such as sacred Kaya forests to see how best they could expand tourism diversification.
She said there is need to aggressively promote the country as a year-round destination and turn tourism into a pillar of economic growth.
The Tourism PS said they hope for a quick recovery for the tourism sector and are looking at a return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
On her part Nzioka said the Covid-19 pandemic had adversely affected meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) Industry.
However she said the MICE segment is slowly picking up as players in the tourism sector seek to survive amid the pandemic.
“We are optimistic that the MICE segment will slowly recover following a drastic decrease in 2020 as a result of travel restrictions,” she said.
She said aggressive marketing of the MICE segment is part of the strategy of tourism product diversification.
Nzioka said Kenya’s MICE industry was among the continental leaders before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
“Covid-19 delivered a massive blow to the MICE segment as the economy took the brunt from the decline in business and corporate trips and conferences,” she said.
She said Covid-19 health protocols and easing of travel restrictions will enable the re-launch of MICE tourism.
“MICE tourism is different from leisure tourism but what we have realized over the years is that MICE visitors want to come back as leisure tourists and extend their visit to the destination,” she said.
She said MICE events traditionally provide an opportunity for the destination to showcase their facilities, infrastructure and offering not only to visitors but also to the wider business community at large.
Nzioka said predictions show that the MICE sector is poised for a rebound after the Covid-19 outbreak as we have good venues that meet health protocols that are in greater demand.
“Despite a sharp decline in mice activity due to the Covid-19 crisis, we were able to survive the health crisis by embracing the hybrid mice industry,” she said.
She said a hybrid event is an event that takes place at a physical venue while allowing the audience to engage in interaction on its virtual platform as well.
Nzioka said this new type of event is rising as a potential breakthrough for the MICE industry globally which has been feeling the deep impacts of the pandemic for the last two years.
She said the local mice sector will be pursuing hybrid events which welcome visitors to physical venues while live streaming the events to engage audiences on their various online platforms.
By Hussein Abdullahi