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Kenya’s global openness hampered by inadequate airport infrastructure

Easter holiday makers enjoy themselves at the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, Mombasa on Good Friday. [ Photo: Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Kenya is yet to scratch the surface in diversifying its tourism products, with culture and business being primes areas for the sector.

The country has made effort to market itself as a cultural and conference tourism destination to increase visitor numbers and shore up earnings, but the two segments are largely untapped, a new report shows.

According to a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report, Kenya’s cultural and business tourism segments are below global average despite a rich cultural diversity and recent growth in the business travel segment. The two segments, which are lumped together, had a score of 1.6 points out of seven, where countries such as China and Spain had a near perfect score of over 6.8 points.

The Tourism and Travel Competiveness Report 2017, released in March, notes that Kenya is still heavily reliant on traditional beach and bush tourism that thrives on showcasing the country’s wildlife and other natural resources.

“While tourism in the region is mainly driven by natural tourism, there is significant room for improvement in protecting, valuing and communicating cultural richness,” said the report.

Needs to improve

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Kenya’s natural resources are, however, still ranked among the best in the world and scored 6.3 points, and the country ranked seventh in the world in terms of attractiveness of its natural assets.

Other areas that Kenya needs to improve on to grow the industry, the report says, include improving its air transport infrastructure.

While there have been recent developments at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that led to the facility being granted a Category One status by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration — which means airlines can make direct flights between the US and Kenya — further improvements on the country’s infrastructure can enhance its position as a regional hub.

Infrastructure, which had a score of 2.5 points in the WEF report, has impacted on Kenya’s international openness where the country has few bilateral air service agreements and hence limits the number of airlines that fly into and out of the country. This has the effect of marginal growth in the number of tourists visiting the country.

Other factors that have held the industry back include a rise in insecurity.

Ranks favourably

Despite its shortcomings, Kenya still ranks favourably, especially in comparison to its sub-Saharan Africa peers, where it was ranked third after South Africa and Mauritius. Gauged against other major world attractions, Kenya ranked 80th globally in 2017 — a slide from position 78 in 2015 — with a score of 3.6 points.

The tourism industry has started growing again after a period of decline that started in 2012 after an increase in terrorist attacks. In 2012, there were reported 1.8 million international visitors but the number dipped to a low 748,000 in 2015. However, arrivals rose to 874,000 in 2016, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

The Government has put in place different incentives over the last four years to attract more visitors to country.

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