Position Kenya as a hub for event tourism

ideas & debate

Position Kenya as a hub for event tourism

Children watch and listen as puppeteers perform an interactive show during the revamped storytelling festival at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi. PHOTO| AUGUSTIN SANG | NMG

Leading destination brands around the world have successfully used event tourism to serve as part of their branding strategy and achieve various economic and tourism goals.

Events can be the catalyst that creates the real reason for potential tourists to visit a particular destination.

Events also improve hotel bed occupancy and boost the economies of host destinations by attracting foreign capital, creating jobs and stimulating cash circulation in the local economy. This brings economic benefits and increases the quality of life of citizens.

During their stay in the country, visitors offer guest destinations the opportunity to create memorable experiences that will ensure their loyalty, commendations and future return visits.

Some visitors prefer to time their visits to coincide with specific events for added value. They do this to look for opportunities to have unique cultural, social, or recreational experiences.

In this respect, tourist income and arrivals can be positively influenced by the conception and production of a carefully curated event portfolio that aims to generate tourist demand and to influence the image and attractiveness of the destination in the long term.

The inherent power of events can be seen in the impressive revenue and arrival metrics recorded by top destination brands that have invested in developing the necessary infrastructure capacity and executing well-funded marketing campaigns.

Industry stakeholders and governments should initiate joint event design and marketing campaigns through broader and more inclusive public-private partnerships to include the development of a comprehensive annual calendar of events by type, season and appeal to attract the national, regional and international travel market.

Counties should also develop and market attractive events to increase attendance and revenue. This will contribute to the diversification of our tourism products.

Our tourism industry is characterized by high and low seasons. By interspersing events and strategically placing them throughout the year, we are able to purposefully and progressively eliminate the off-season, which has traditionally led to declines in attendance and revenue at most of the country’s tourism attractions.

The UK and Germany, for example, hold their largest and busiest tourism fairs in the winter, when attendance is typically comparatively low. This aims to maintain a high bed occupancy by delegates from around the world when weather conditions are not favorable for leisure tourism.

The annual three-day World Travel Market event in London attracts around 50,000 visitors, including senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international media, and generates over £3.71 billion (approx. Sh536 billion) in travel industry contracts. Before Covid, the city of London attracted around 21 million visitors in 2019.

Kenya has successfully hosted a number of regional and international events. Unfortunately, the country has also missed opportunities to host continental football tournaments, mainly due to substandard or inadequate facilities.

The city of Nairobi is currently the only destination with accommodation capacity to host reasonably sized events depending on the number of delegates.

Kisumu had to expand its search for accommodation to neighboring counties to accommodate over 10,000 delegates attending the recently concluded 9th edition of the Africities Summit. However, Kisumu’s economy has seen a welcome boost following the damaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The main beneficiaries included hotels and other accommodation facilities, tourist attractions, transport service providers and restaurants, among others.

The experience gained in hosting the Africities Summit should serve as a springboard for the country to be proactive in seeking and submitting bids to host regional and international events.

There is the possibility and the existing good will for Kenya to position itself as a regional event center. However, this can only be achieved if the government consistently allocates adequate funds and actively promotes the procurement of additional investments for the sustainable development of the necessary infrastructure.

This will gradually allow the country to become a formidable contender for hosting premium international events.

We must continue to develop a variety of quality accommodation, world-class stadiums and seamless mass transit systems, coupled with well-trained human capital with technical expertise to keep event facilities in tip-top condition.

It is encouraging to note that some hotels have reopened following the pandemic shutdown. International hotel brands are resuming deadlocked projects or planning new investments. This will strengthen the country’s capacity to host events due to the increased number of hotel rooms.

About Sonia Martinez

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