Tourism stakeholders over the weekend converged at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) for the 2017 tourism Innovation Forum.
The event was officially launched on Friday by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed with Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai among those in attendance.
In a speech read on his behalf by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, President Uhuru Kenyatta, urged hospitality players to collaborate on improving product and offering to make the sector more competitive.
“Technology and consumer trends are fundamentally changing traveller demands and spending patterns,” he said.
“We have shown in mobile technology and financial services that we can be innovative in the face of change and advances in these areas have helped us leapfrog other countries and advance the lives of millions of Kenyans. We have a rare and generational opportunity to do the same in tourism.”
He noted that major road projects in Miritini, between Mariakani and Kilifi, in the Masai Mara and in Tsavo West are have been launched to present opportunities for investors to diversify and upgrade.
“Government agencies and the private sector need to appraise Kenya’s position visa-vis the global emerging trends and practices. We need to identify the hindrances to innovation and all players to work together on tools and practical programmes for improving our tourism offer.
“In this way we can deliver a shared common vision and a Strategic Framework for SMART Tourism that will ensure a transformed and innovative sector, ” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
Najib Balala on his part, called on hoteliers to look for innovative ways of improving domestic and foreign tourism saying one of the ways would be to reduce accommodation rates during low seasons.
“In 2015 the Government established a Tourism Recovery Taskforce to develop a recovery strategy and framework to help improved security in the coastal tourism hubs, initiate fiscal incentives to encourage investment and duty exemptions for upgrades and refurbishments of tourism infrastructure.
“KTB has also been highly active in delivering our tourist marketing progamme to improve Kenya’s image internationally. The results are being seen in increased visitor numbers year on year,” said Najib Balala.
He noted that the government is focused on improving the number of tourist arrival by lowering park fees during the low seasons to keep the numbers of tourist arrivals high.
Tourists visiting Kenya pay $50 (Ksh5,000) for a single visa entry while multiple entry costs 4100 (Ksh10,000).
In his panel discussion, EatOut Kenya CEO Mikul Shah called on industry players to work together in an effort to better the tourism sector.
“The truth is we in the tourism sector do not like each other and that frustrates efforts to promote the industry.
“There is need for deeper cooperation between players in the sector and avenues where ideas can be exchanged to ensure tourism in Kenya grows.”
Mr Shah further called on the government to improve the country’s infrastructure to give it an edge over its neighbours.
Speaking on Saturday, Tabel Rafai said: “Kenya’s forward-thinking approach to technology gives it an opportunity to lead the continent on technology-enabled travel experiences.”
“I applaud the Government of Kenya’s commitment to creating the right ecosystem for innovation.”
He further acknowledged Kenya’s zeal to put in place long-term developmental benefits of sustainable tourism, adding that with the support of parallel industries, the country will be well positioned to capitalise on the next wave of global travellers”
President Uhuru Kenyatta later awarded UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai Elder of the Golden Heart (EGH) for his distinguished service to Kenya.
On Saturday, the delegates signed pledges to support innovation and change in the tourism sector.