Domestic tourism offers great possibilities for Kenya and we should all embrace it.
Kenya is one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa. The beauty in the country should not be however, exclusive for the enjoyment of foreigners, or should it? As a matter of fact, the Kenya Tourism Board is running a campaign dubbed: #twendeushago which encourages people to visit different locations in the country by having a native welcome people to the location through the hashtag. Through this campaign, the tourism board gets locals from different regions of the country to invite other Kenyans to visit their ‘ushango’.
But why should the campaigns by KTB be part of us, I mean, why is it important that we hearken unto the voice of KTB and start to consciously be involved in local tourism? Indeed, isn’t (local) tourism an elitist practice that should be confined to those who a lot of money just idling in their bank accounts?
Newsflash: local tourism should be up there on your to do list and something that you should do as a matter of not just relaxation or leisure but as something that you should engage in as deliberately as you do other educational escapades that you plan for. And come to think of it, engaging in local tourism will give you a whole package –cultural, social, economic, historical, educational…
We can also look at it from a patriotism point of view: Embracing local tourism will hasten the recovery of the sector from the travel advisories.
From 2013 through to the early months of 2015, the number of visitors, including investors in the country, dropped significantly. This came after a series of terror attacks by the Al Shabaab militia who rendered the country unsafe for not just tourists but even us, Kenyans. Travel advisories against Kenya were issued by most western countries that had record high numbers of visitors who came into the country. The result was that the number of visitors coming into the country dropped significantly and the tourism industry in the country – the country’s second largest foreign exchange earner almost went to its knees with many hotels shutting down and scores of people working in the industry going back on the streets for lack of jobs.
These travel advisories have been largely lifted but the long and short of this all is that through local tourism, we will directly contribute to the quick recovery of the industry. Kenya Tourism Board acting CEO Jacinta Nzioka-Mbithi says that domestic tourism in the country has a lot of potential that needs to be harnessed. In New Zealand, for example, domestic tourism is the backbone of tourism in the country turning in up to 14 billion dollars annually, representing 59% of the country’s total tourism earnings. In South Africa domestic tourism is at 52% of the total earnings of the tourism industry; in 2011, the contribution of domestic tourism earnings in the country stood at 76% of the total earnings. This simply means that in a country such as our own and with all the tourism potentials, domestic tourism also has the potential to completely change the fortunes of the tourism industry in the country from where it currently stands at 47% of the earnings from domestic tourism.
But just what are the specific benefits of having local tourists visit an area?
- Aiding development in the areas
Proceeds generated from local tourists can go a long way in aiding development projects in an area. Let us take the case of Lewa Safari Camp. Did you know that all proceeds gained from this camp (an offshoot of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy) are directly reinvested into wildlife conservation and local community development projects? Now you know. Therefore, if you take part in domestic tourism, you directly contribute to the development of a community somewhere and as we look forward to an advanced Kenya and Africa, these are some of the commitments that we need to think about. Talk about leaving footsteps on the sands of time. Or more grandiosely, being part of solidifying history.
- Domestic tourism will open areas and set them up for progress
Closely linked to the first point, intensifying domestic tourism ensures that an area opens up and develops in order to host the visitors that come into that area. These developments could come in the form of construction of better access roads, airstrips, hotels, schools, hospitals and installation of power among many other things. Better infrastructure does not only help the visitors who come into an area but they also help the locals and aid in the industrialization of these areas hence, effectively setting these communities up for development.
- Creation of employment.
For a country that is heavily reliant on tourism for its income, a stronger hold on the domestic tourism forms one of the very first markers of a stable economy. Local tourism can provide direct jobs to communities such as people to handle the emerging infrastructure such as housekeepers and tour guides who are usually selected from the community. Local tourism can also contribute to the creation of jobs through non-direct ways such as agriculture (increased demand for agricultural produce), food production and crafts because domestic tourism can be a major driver of job creation. So, instead of sitting back and complaining about how the little efforts that the government is putting in place to tackle the problem of unemployment are not working, be part of the solution to this problem by enlisting a local tourist trip on your to do list this year.
- A sense of pride and identity
For the community that one chooses to visit and learn about their cultural identities, histories and ways of life, there is a sense of pride for these people even as they showcase their heritage to you. The result is that you will contribute to the preservation of a people’s significant cultures as they will take pride in them as well as see the need to do so.
- Encourage conservation of ecosystems and natural resource management.
When there are tourists and a continued need for natural sites and wildlife, the communities feel the need to preserve them. This also happens because they can see the benefits of having these natural resources in their midst and hence play an active role in their preservation.
And now, as the domestic tourist, what really do you stand to gain by?
- You discover your country
As the world continues to become smaller and smaller through the internet, there is a growing number of people who want to travel and experience some of the things whose existence the information age has made particularly easy to know about. This is especially occasioned by the increasing education, knowledge and a source of income. Local tourism broadens the array of experiences for the local traveler and hence giving them the opportunity to travel and learn at the same time. Domestic tourism is a potential contributor to a better quality of leisure time if well planned and executed.
- You get to enjoy the beauty of your own country
Do you know why scores of tourists are attracted to Kenya annually? I will tell you. The reason is to discover the beauty of the country, the land, rich cultures, wildlife, different cuisines from our many ethnic identities and so on. When you spare efforts to become a domestic tourist, you get to savour some of these things and enjoy your own country. Domestic tourism gives one the opportunity to visit and experience new places.
- Contributes to national integration and cohesion
In a country where politicians threaten to tear us at the seams of our various ethnic and regional identities, domestic tourism is a good place to start if you intend to find out the truth for yourself and decide whether or not to follow the political rhetoric that ignores the enormous force that can be created if we all understood that our diverse cultural identities are a strength rather than a weakness. When we travel and visit different cultures, we discover all the good colours that beautify Kenya.