Tourism stakeholders have been urged to tap into the domestic tourism segment to help soften the blow from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Tourism Principal Secretary (PS) Safina Kwekwe says domestic tourism remains the viable option to revive tourism businesses in the wake of the pandemic that has disrupted businesses all over the world.
Kwekwe said two years since the disease was declared a global pandemic, the country’s tourism industry managed to remain afloat by harnessing the power of domestic travel.
The PS says with international travel restrictions, stakeholders have no option but embrace campaigns aimed at boosting domestic tourism to stay afloat.
She said tourism is one of the worst-hit industries by the Covid-19 pandemic globally and Kenya hopes for quick recovery of the industry.
The PS said the country has a huge potential for revival given that domestic tourism and international arrivals were bouncing back.
Kwekwe said the government is keen to develop better policies to ease doing business to enable tourism to grow.
“The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has exposed our country’s dependence on foreign travelers,” she said, adding that domestic tourism has been overlooked for a long time.
She called on tourism players to start offering innovative domestic tourism packages to entice Kenyans to travel and explore their country in a bid to stay afloat during the pandemic period.
The PS was speaking on Monday in Diani, Kwale County during celebrations to mark this year’s World Tourism Day running under the theme ‘Tourism for inclusive growth’.
Kwekwe was accompanied by the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre Nana Gecaga, National Coordinator Mama Ngina Waterfront Park Ali Noor and Coast Regional Tourism Manager John Mutua.
“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent the sector because Kenyans who used to travel abroad for vacations had an opportunity to redirect their money locally as a result of the international border closure,” she said during an interview.
She said the ban on international flights has delivered a big hit to the tourism industry that has been the lifeblood of the local economies of the coastal counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu.
“During the Covid-19 period, we also realised that we need aggressive marketing in potential markets in Eastern Europe and the Middle East because they account for large inbound tourist arrivals since the easing of Covid-19 international travel restrictions last year,” she said.
Kwekwe said the tourism industry contributes significantly to the country’s economic growth and that domestic tourism saved the fragile sector from total collapse.
She said at the height of the ban on international flights, there has been a sharp drop in foreign travelers which had impacted negatively on the overall economy because they spend more than domestic travelers.
“For example, in 2020, the number of inbound tourist arrivals dropped to 400,000 down from 1.5 million before the pandemic hit in 2019,” she noted.
The PS said the national government has been providing financial support through soft loans aimed at spurring domestic tourism.
“For example, out of the Sh2 billion set aside to support the sector, local stakeholders in the coastal region have already spent Sh800, 000 to reignite their businesses,” she said.
She also said a continuing shift towards ecotourism focused on environmental conservation could give an additional boost to the tourism sector.
The PS urged the tourism-dependent coastal counties to shift to niche markets including adventure travel, health and wellness tours in a bid to diversify their local economies.
“Niche marketing is important because here in the South Coast we have realised it is popular with Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians and Tanzanians looking for wedding destinations,” she said adding that there is need to tap into domestic and regional tourism to support the future growth of the sector.
She said as a result, the country will go out of its way to leverage the untapped regional market to boost tourist arrivals and hasten the sector’s recovery after a slump caused by the pandemic.
By Hussein Abdullahi