The government is banking on recognition of top industry performers and private-public partnerships in its efforts to revive the tourism sector, which suffered a slump last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said Magical Kenya Signature Experiences (MKSE), a programme that recognises outfits that offer the best safari and tour experiences, is a key part of the ministry’s strategy to revive the crucial sector.
Speaking at Karura Forest, where 29 firms were honoured during the second edition of the MKSE awards yesterday, Mr Balala challenged tour firms to rethink their business models and look beyond the sandy white beaches at the Coast and safaris in the country.
“It is the experience, it is not just about the bed in the hotel, it is not just about going and seeing a lion or actually cruising a national park for five or six hours looking for a lion or elephants. People want more, because the clientele is impatient, the clientele does not have more time, they want to actually send the story back home,” CS Balala said.
The CS said although the past one year has been difficult for tourism, he was optimistic that the industry will soon bounce back.
“A lot has been going on behind the scenes to ensure Kenya comes back stronger. MKSE is part of our strategy to revive tourism in Kenya through partnership with the private sector,” he added.
This was the second edition of the MKSE programme, which began in 2019 with the recognition of 15 tour experience providers.
No event was held last year, owing to disruptions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
So far, more than 44 signature experience collections have been selected by the Ministry of Tourism and the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).
Mr Balala noted the objective of the programme is to match the expectations of the current discerning traveller, who is keener on immersive travel experiences than ever before.
To participate in the programme, tour operators are required to take a pre-qualification quiz, which has a set of 10 questions.
They are then asked to fill an application form, after which they are subjected to a desk and an on-site audit.
Those that meet the requirements are then added to the MKSE collection.
“We are glad to award 29 new experiences and add to the Signature Collection. When we began this journey in 2018, our goal was to grow and diversify our products to ensure that we are a cut above other destinations and to also have products that offer an outstanding experience to suit today’s demanding traveller. I congratulate all the winners for participating in the programme and adding an extra layer of magic to what Kenya has to offer Kenyans and the world,” said the CS.
The CS said the MKSE programme is a key milestone in Kenya’s tourism transformation.
KTB Chief Officer Dr Betty Radier said the newly recognised operators would have their products and experiences marketed locally and internationally through FAM trips, exhibitions, collaborative initiatives and training to providing extra visibility while driving conversion for the respective companies.
“Kenya has carved her niche as a competitive destination with rich and diverse experiences across the country available throughout the year and fit for different travel segments. Through this collection, we are able to show the world that Kenya has a lot more to offer beyond the iconic wildlife safari and the pristine sandy beaches for both repeat and first-time visitors,” Dr Radier said.
She said players in the sector need to be aware of emerging trends and to incorporate them in their business strategies.
“Some of these trends include search for authentic and immersive local travel experiences, slow travel, outdoor experiences to connect with nature, and the need to leave a positive impact in the destinations they visit. I encourage businesses and individuals who are in the tourism space to participate in the subsequent MKSE recruitment drive.”
This year’s honours went to Mida Creek Floating Adventure, Watamu Tree House, Zero to Hero Kite Surfing, Tribe Watersports, Humpback Whale Watching Experience, The Hemingways (Watamu), Watamu Tree House, Distant Relatives Experience, Diani Bikes, Kayaking in Kenya, In the footsteps of Elsa the Lioness, Black Rhino Tracking with Saruni, Saruni Lodge, Fly Camping Under The Stars, Karisia Walking Safaris, Karisia Safaris Limited, NanyukiOlepangi Farm Experience, Olepangi Farm, El Karama Experience, El Karama Lodge, Borana Lodge, The Ololo Experience, Saruni Lodges, Thimlich Ohinga World Heritage Site and National Museums of Kenya.