On the 15th of September 2017, Saffir Africa presented preliminary results of a study carried out on the travel habits of Kenyans. The study which was carried out between 1st and 23rd of August of this year captured the opinions of three hundred participants between the ages of 23 and 43. Of this group of millennials, 52% were female. In audience during the presentation was the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Najib Balala who tweeted his support of Saffir’s efforts in compiling data around tourism. The full report which was released afterwards gives a concise picture of the habits, thoughts and expectations of travelling Kenyans.
The buzzword in the tourism industry in the recent past has been “innovation”. The CS at the Tourism Innovation and Change Forum held this year called upon stakeholders to exchange ideas on how to improve both domestic and foreign tourism in Kenya. An article by Saffir Africa exploring what innovation might look like in Kenya provides a great foundation on which to base analysis of the report.
New approaches in the industry
Globally, there has been a transition from traditional service providers such as hotels and tour companies to more personalized experiences such as Airbnb and Uber. The reason for this has to be the expectation of highly personalized experiences and customer service. Similarly, as tour company Trekksoft noted, as the majority of travellers are millennials, they are driven by a need for authenticity and hence tend to distrust institutions and opt for more grounded solutions.
With this in mind, it is apparent that the industry’s household names would lose business unless they changed strategy. An innovative way for them to take advantage of this wave is through brand partnerships. A great example of this is the Saffir Lunatic Express through which Uber Kenya, TECNO, Urban Kitchen, Famous Grouse and other big brands partnered to give the perfect weekend experience at an amazingly low cost. Such partnerships and business-to-business associations would ensure revenue for all the stakeholders.
The trend has gradually moved away from traditionally-scripted holidays such as Easter getaways and Christmas season to more spontaneous, short vacations all year round. Millennials are constantly seeking escape and this informs their choices. Forbes predicted that 2017 would see an increase in visits to destinations which are more nature-centric such as islands. This is in line with the findings of Saffir’s Africa showing the Coast to be a popular holiday destination. A valuable takeaway from this would be that industry players need to find ways to merge nature with fun, recreational activities outside the usual.
The report highlighted that the online space for Kenyan travellers was not just a significant source of information in the form of blogs and social media while planning the holiday, but also during the trip itself. This revealed itself in the responses where a majority of the participants submitted that Wi-Fi was very important to them. Both locally and on the global scene, mobile photography has seen an increase with smartphones improving their picture quality in order to be attractive to customers.
With this kind of power in their hands, Kenyan travellers can influence each other’s choices by sharing their experiences online. This provides instant feedback for service providers who could do more to harness this kind of focused and yet free advertising.
While more and more people are opening up to the idea of solo travel, one major limitation cripples their ability to do this: the cost of travel. It is this factor that has most contributed to the popularity of group travel where costs can be split through carpooling, sharing accommodation and cooking together. Very few Kenyans have their travels sponsored by their places of work. The rest must save in order to cover the often-expensive visa and park fees.
This makes a prime opportunity for innovations such as travel instalment plans. The few that have come up in the country have been poorly marketed, and as such travel remains a preserve of the few with disposable cash at short notice.
The report draws attention to a few shortcomings in the industry that keeps it from growing. Firstly, the fact that there is still an emphasis on peak and off-peak seasons means that foreign tourists are still considered more important than domestic tourists. Off-peak seasons come with high prices which discourage locals from travelling. This can be fixed by introducing more affordable packages in partnership with other brands to ensure vibrant activity all year.
Second, lack of information cripples the search for holiday destinations. Marketing is an area which needs to be invested in, and not just through traditional methods. Influencers, bloggers and the customers themselves are better placed to generate positive traffic than billboards and television ads.
Third, and perhaps most important is the lack of standardization in chain enterprises. Discrepancies in costs, packages and services offered from one location to the other inhibits brand loyalty. If each customer is valued equally, the brand stands a better chance of having repeat customers.
The report draws the picture of the Kenyan traveller as a spontaneous millennial who wants to maximize adventure while minimizing costs with convenience. The best way to gain his loyalty is by offering a customized, unique experience which by sharing with a group of like minded individuals will cement the experience as pleasurable for him. The report will definitely be instrumental for industry players who seek to understand their clientele in order to satisfy them. Of course, a more detailed research needs to be done as the survey also had its gaps in terms of participants being able to choose more than one option per question which would skew the data because many travellers have more than one reason for doing a particular thing. The report is a great start and hopefully, in the near future, Saffir will carry out a more comprehensive study with various variables. The report has some great insights for anybody who is interested in travel trends in Kenya.