21 January 2009

Kenyan tourism making a comeback

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After a year of struggle with its biggest export earner, Kenya is making a comeback with its tourism and reaffirming its rightful place as one of the finest holiday destinations in the world.

An outbreak of violence early 2008 resulted in a major slump in Kenya's tourism industry, contributing to a 30 per cent loss in the third quarter tourism earnings.  This badly hurt the east African nation's economy, where tourism is traditionally the country's second largest hard currency earner and contributes greatly to east Africa's biggest economy.

The government quickly formed a coalition to contain the outbreak and appease Kenyan citizens.  The country has since been restored to its original state of peace and stability, and tourism industry operators have been working hard to counteract the devastating effects of the political unrest.

Yet it hasn't take long for the faith to be restored for one of Kenya's largest tourist markets – in September, 25 per cent more British tourists arrived in the country than the month before, a number just 27 per cent less than the record number of September 2007.

So what is it that attracts tens of thousands of people to visit Kenya from the UK every month?  Is it the 225,000 square miles of jungle-like forests, arid rocky country, snow-capped mountains, dry deserts, flamingo lakes, acacia-dotted savannahs, and miles of heavenly coastline?  Or are the game parks and reserves bursting with wildlife the pulling factor?  Or is it the wide-brimming smiles of local Kenyans providing a level of hospitality unmatched in most parts of the world?

Tourists are spoiled for choice when they visit Kenya; seeing the Big Five, witnessing the migration in the Masai Mara reserve, spotting hundreds of exotic bird species, hiking the Rift Valley, playing golf on a mountain-side resort, or relaxing on the palm-lined beaches.  They can from choose hotels, lodges, and luxury semi-permanent tented camps and even camp themselves in the wild.  And for the more adventurous, walking safaris, mountain-biking safaris, and horse and camel safaris are all now available through various tour operators.

Now that President Barack Obama has been officially inaugurated, it is hoped that interest in his homeland would also spark a tourism revival.  The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) also said it would be capitalising on the President's Kenyan heritage, who was born to a white American mother and a Kenyan father from Kogelo, a small rural village in western Kenya. 

"We'll be looking at our strategy for marketing so that we give greater attention to the U.S. market to respond to the greater attention and interest being shown," Jake Grieves-Cook, chair of the KTB said.

"It has very positive implications for tourism.  Kenya now is in the spotlight internationally.  We are bound to see an increased interest in Kenya," he added.

The Minister also commented that the "Obama effect" is not the only factor securing the growth of Kenyan tourism next year; the government has ensured a strong marketing strategy is in action, starting with establishing new and reinforcing old relationships at the World Travel Market in London last year.  Forty-six tour operators, government agencies and travel industry members, who collectively won the Best Stand Award, represented Kenya.  Kenya is also funding a marketing campaign in Europe, which involves the media, outdoor and Internet advertising, and direct mail to targeted markets.

Nationals from the USA and the European Union need to apply for a 90-day temporary Kenyan visa to visit the country.  Although visitors from these countries can buy temporary visas at the port of entry to Kenya, applying before travelling to the country is recommended to avoid the risk of being denied a visa, as some applications can be rejected at customs.


The Worldwide Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in Kenya visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, Worldwide Visa Bureau.


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