Impressions from INDABA by Denis Gathanju

South Africa is now Kenya’s biggest regional source market

Serena Hotels strikes a confident tone as Kenya heads to the elections

South Africa is now Kenya’s biggest regional source market for tourists. This was announced by acting Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) boss Ms. Ms. Jacinta Nzioka on the second-day of the on-going INDABA 2016 which came to a close on May 09th in Durban, South Africa.

According to Nzioka, South Africa registered more than 30,000 arrivals in 2015, up from about 25,000 in 2014. She noted that Kenya has thus far registered more that three percent of arrivals from South Africa between January and March 2016 which is an indication that the arrivals from South Africa could only go higher.

While heading a strong team of Kenyan tour operators and travel agents, she noted that the KTB was putting an emphasis of growing arrivals from this region, especially South Africa by focusing on the great outdoors and adventure travel, which is a niche product that the South Africans really love.

Said she: ‘We have hosted a road show with more than 300 travel agents and tour operators in South Africa mainly in the cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth with a view to letting them know what Kenya as a destination has to offer in the areas of adventure tourism‘.

Rosemary Mugambi the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for Serena Hotels struck a positive tone in that the tourism arrivals in Kenya were improving and the bookings were strong for Serena Hotels this year as compared to last year.

She hailed the government’s continued efforts of curbing terrorism in Kenya that negatively impacted the tourism sector in 2014/2015 noting that Kenya has not suffered a single terrorism incident since the Garissa attacks.

She further welcomed the appointment of Hon. Najib Balala as the Tourism Cabinet Secretary and hailed some of the new policy decisions that have been effected since he came to office such as the waiver of landing fees for chartered planes landing in both Mombasa and Malindi as some incentives that would make Kenya an attractive long-haul destination.

Mugambi further called on national carrier to introduce direct flights into Mombasa as this would be a favourite with most tourists seeking the beach experience on the Kenyan coast as it would take away the hustle of transiting through Nairobi. She lauded the efforts placed in by Ethiopian Airlines into opening up the route saying Kenya Airways would help increase capacity into Mombasa.

However, she lamented the laxity of most tour operators from Kenya to market Kenya in the lead-up to the 2017 general elections.

Said she: ‘Yes, we will have elections and they will come and go; but I don’t see the reason why we should sit on our laurels and blame the dip in tourism arrivals to the shadows of an impending election. We held successful and peaceful elections in 2013 and I don’t see the reason why that should not be the case in 2017. It is we as Kenyans that need to communicate to the trade and the industry that we are still open for business and taking bookings‘.

Mugambi struck an optimistic outlook for the industry and more so for Serena Hotels noting that the hotel group has embarked on an ambitious product upgrade across its hotels in the region. She noted that the expansion works at the Nairobi Serena hotel would finally get off the ground this year.

Added she: ‘We will have a phased expansion of the Nairobi Serena that will last about 18 months. This will not only add capacity at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, but further enhance the service and product offering that we have. We are also focusing on enhancing this at our other properties that include the Kampala Serena Hotel and also at the Selous Serena Camp, which will bring to it a whole new experience‘.

Mugambi maintained that Serena Hotels was seeking to retain its market leadership position across the region by maintaining high product and service offerings to its guests and was keen on further expanding this to other regions of Africa. Plans are currently underway to set up the first Serena Hotels property in the West African region in the city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

And when I prodded further as to when this will be happening and what other cities Serena Hotels was targeting in West Africa, a smiling Rosemary said: ‘Watch this space‘.