7 April 2008

Kenya: KTB to Open More Tourism Circuits

Nairobi — Kenya's principle tourism seller, the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) has embarked on a marketing blitz to promote all tourism circuits in the country.

And players in the industry are looking into the possibility of lowering tourism charges in the wake of the post election skirmishes to woo back visitors to the country.

Of particular concern is the opening up of less visited tourism spot in northern Kenya that if opened up could massively boost Kenya's tourism kitty.

According to Daniel Karira a marketing assistant in charge of domestic and regional tourism at KTB, the marketing campaign will involve highlighting of tourism spots that the regions have to offer which are strictly reserved to the areas.

"The northern circuit has some unique tourism products that can hardly be found in the other areas. Apart from the culture attractions, there are some rare animal species like the Somali ostrich, gravy giraffe among others," said Karira.

The region also plays host to the historic Koobi Fora museum where remains of the early man are preserved. The area which is within the Sibiloi National Reserve is considered as the cradle land of mankind and a major tourist attraction.

Among the tourist spots visited by journalists on the tour are Samburu national park, Marsabit national park, camp sires in North Horr, Sibiloi park, Maralal, the Chalbi Desert and Lake Turkana. A spot check at the Samburu national lodge revealed that bed occupancy had reduced by nearly 50% as there were only 70 visitors out of the 128 bed capacity available.

The deputy manager at the lodge Robert Lenayonka attributed the situation to the election violence that rocked the country in the first two months of the year.

"Business has seriously dropped as we speak due to the political turmoil that swept across the country. We are however looking into several options including the reduction of levies in the short term to woo back visitors," said Lenayonka.

Karira said most Kenyans were yet to recognize the importance of domestic tourism saying despite the special packages for the locals, there was still nothing much to show off from local tourists.

"Kenyans need an attitude change towards tourism. The mentality that tourism is for foreigner keen on spending and relaxing is old fashioned and they must make good use of the special packages for locals currently on offer," he said.

Despite the aggressive marketing by KTB, infrastructure comes out as the main challenge the sector must address if much is to be realized from the area. The roads that lead to the tourist spots in Northern Kenya are a crisis for motorists and are cited as a major turn off to visitors.

"If issues of insecurity and infrastructure were addressed in this tourism circuit, the returns would much higher given that most tourists have the desire to visit these areas but are turned off," said Martin Tate a tour operator who has specialized on the Northern Kenya circuit.

The Northern Kenya's circuit also lacks crucial communication infrastructure including telephone network thereby disconnecting it from the rest of the world. Karira who addressed journalist on an extensive tour of the region appealed to the government to consider addressing the infrastructure challenge in the area in effort to open it up.

"We have appealed to the government to consider the infrastructure situation in Northern Kenya. This is a region that holds much potential in terms of tourism," he said.

He said KTB had come up with marketing strategies for individual tourism spots across the country given their diverse products. On the impact of the tourism to local communities, KTB has advised these communities to form and register traditional groups in order to benefit from the return of the sector. For along time, locals in tourism hotspots in the country have remained impoverished despite being used time and again as attraction products.

Another major challenge on tourism activities in the northern region is rampant insecurity especially with the frequent cattle rustling activities in the area. Given that all the communities in this circuit are nomadic herders, clashes between them have time and again spiralled into the tourist areas causing a major security concern.

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