Battle for East Africa tourism market brews

Monday February 19 2018

Tourists at a park in Tanzania. NMG

Tourists at a park in Tanzania. Kenya and Tanzania are set for a bruising battle for dominance of East Africa’s tourism market. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

More by this Author

Kenya and Tanzania are set for a bruising battle for dominance of East Africa’s tourism market, with both countries unveiling blueprints to boost the sector’s contribution to their economies, following impressive growth levels in 2017.

As part of its action plan unveiled by the Tourism Ministry last week, Kenya hopes to triple its international tourist arrivals to four million by 2030, from 1.4 million last year, and quadruple the domestic ones to 26.4 million.

The National Tourism Blueprint is anchored on four key points: Product development, marketing, investment promotion and infrastructure development.

The tourism masterplan also targets to have at least 561,800 people employed directly by the sector, which contributes about 11 per cent to Kenya’s GDP, and is the country’s third largest foreign exchange earner.

Last year, the sector defied the uncertainty surrounding the prolonged election period to register a 20.3 per cent growth in earnings to $1.2 billion.

Attracting tourists


According to the Tourism Ministry Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, the “big four” plan will involve partnering with county governments to identify and market untapped tourism products and experiences, review existing niche products such as medical tourism and agritourism and employ fresh marketing strategies including digital means to attract more tourists.

“Our first priority must be to fix and refresh our tourism products and re-invigorate our engagement with our current markets — both local and international — in order to attract more visitors by 2019,” said Mr Balala during the unveiling of the blueprint.

Kenya had dominated East Africa’s tourism sector for a long time but began losing its command to Tanzania in 2011, following increased attacks by Somalia-based al Shabaab militants. The attacks attracted several travel advisories from key markets including the US and Europe.

But as Kenya celebrated the launch of its tourism blueprint, Tanzania was unveiling a $150 million World Bank-funded project aimed at promoting destinations in the country’s southern tourist circuit.

The Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (Regrow) project is meant to improve infrastructure, including roads to improve access to the circuit, deemed as a rich tourism destination.

Regrow’s launch follows a raft of other tourism promotion measures introduced in recent months, including a review of the country’s tourism policy to include conference and meeting tourism and a proposal to raise the licence fee for tour companies by 100 per cent.

Foreign exchange earner

Tourism is now Tanzania’s largest foreign exchange earner and is the fastest growing sector. Earnings for the year ending October 2017 rose by 4.2 per cent to $2.1 billion, from $2 billion in 2016. The country targets to receive at least eight million international tourists by 2025.

International tourist arrivals to Tanzania between 2004 and 2016 increased by about 69 per cent to 1.3 million from 760,000, while those to Kenya reduced by 0.02 per cent to 1.34 million from 1.36 million.

However, experts are worried about the future of the region’s plans to jointly market itself as a single tourist destination.

“I am delighted to see how domestic and regional tourism is given a priority in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. However, at the regional level, as long as we have not tackled the issues of air connectivity and the cost of travel, it will be challenging to achieve such targets,” said Carmen Nibigira, a regional tourism expert.

In 2015, East African countries launched a single tourist visa aimed at boosting the sector’s growth, but only Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda ratified the agreement.

Uganda hopes to raise international tourist arrivals to four million by 2020. In 2016, foreign visitors to the country grew by 4.1 per cent to 1.32 million.

Rwanda’s Development Board has projected the sector will earn $444 million in 2017, up from $404 million in 2016.

Related stories