Kenya is an African country bordering the Indian Ocean in eastern Africa and features amazing wildlife and a beautiful coast line. Whatever your heart desires, Kenya has it all.
That is why Kenya welcomes a lot of overseas tourists every year, but unfortunately the domestic tourism stays behind. Most of the Kenyan population has not yet discovered domestic tourism, which means that they travel inside their own country, visiting people, with the goal to get to know their country.
Tourism is nowadays an important factor of income in Kenya, it has even surpassed the combined earnings from (exporting) coffee and tea. The tourism sector brings a lot of money and job opportunities with it, which the relatively poor Kenyan population can definitely use.
The government encourages the Kenyan population to discover domestic tourism, but still, the viability and constraints of domestic tourism for the population is not well understood by the government also as the potentials and certain limitations.
There are several reasons for domestic tourism, of which only a few are mentioned here: expand investment induced by domestic tourism, transfer resources from richer to poorer areas and communities, compensate for seasonal variations in overseas tourism thereby sustaining tourism demand and employment in tourism, maintain the number of visitors in Kenya because of the world economic recession wherefore the number of overseas visitors can decrease, international tourism is sensitive to bad publicity and competition with other countries who offer the same kind of attractions (like South Africa).
The Domestic Tourism Council (DTC) brings the government and the private sector together to discuss in what way domestic tourism can be improved. Hotels also encourage the local people for domestic tourism by offering them reduced hotel rates. Though, the tourism facilities are mostly too expensive for the local population. Families must pay for their children going to school, health care and pay the rent for the house which results in a low disposable income which is left. From this income they cannot afford the accommodation and transportation costs. Kenyan people are very recreation minded so it is not that they don’t want to travel, but most of them are not able to travel, because of economic reasons.
Another problem for developing domestic tourism in Kenya is that the entire tourism system is outward oriented to the international visitors. More than half of the Kenyan hotel capacity is owned, controlled and managed by foreigners which leads to a significant loss of income for Kenya itself. (Sinclair 1990; 1992).
A weakness of Kenya’s domestic tourism is to attract the Kenyans to the touristic highlights. Some Kenyans do want the same experience as the tourists, but others don’t. They want a differentiated product which includes unexploited activities like horse riding, hunting, fishing and mountain climbing. The development of these activities are expensive to develop but they can contribute to the development of domestic tourism because they can be found closer which also means that it is less expensive to travel there.
Besides this, Kenya has well over 40 ethnic communities which could be exploited to enhance domestic tourism, the country offers 57 national parks and reserves (Kenya Wildlife Service 1990), of which only the half is well-developed and visited and furthermore the country offers many archaeological and prehistoric sites. All these are opportunities to enhance domestic tourism together with diversifying the sun-bathing product. Development of these areas requires a lot of investments but in the end this will encourage Kenyans to travel to these places.
Furthermore, the establishment of small and medium sized hotels can help to spread tourism through different places, which provides new employment opportunities and it could make tourism more affordable to Kenyan people (Dieke et al 1993). (Isaac Sindiga, 1996)
The article was written in 1996 and since then the domestic tourism in Kenya has increased. Currently, 30 percent of the recorded bed nights are attributed to domestic tourism against a target of 50 percent in 2012, according to the Ministry of Tourism Strategic Plan (2008-2012).
Though there are still some limitations, like domestic tourists who pay even more for the same services than international tourists.
In my opinion Kenya could further increase the number of domestic tourists by educating the local residents about (domestic) tourism. Introduce tourism education in schools and teach the students what tourism is, why tourists want to visit Kenya, what Kenya has to offer, why domestic tourism is so important and especially emphasize what the benefits of international as well as domestic tourism are (like job opportunities and income). Letting the Kenyans participate in the process of tourism development and involving them in the conservation of heritage parks will make the Kenyans more aware of domestic tourism and they can gain knowledge about it. With this knowledge they are able to work in tourism and some of them can own a small business in tourism, which will solve a bit of the problem that most tourism companies are owned by foreign investors and it will also give the Kenyans more disposable income which they can spend on their domestic holiday trip.
Besides the above, the Kenyan government has to promote diversified activities like horse riding and fishing because these are activities in which almost everybody can participate and which is not so expensive for the local residents to undertake. These activities can also be established outside the main tourist areas to spread tourism and to avoid that the local population is constantly confronted with the tourists.
To me, the most important thing to do in the first coming years is to offer the local population reduced rates for accommodations, attractions and transportation. An idea would be that the government offers the Kenyan people a ‘package deal’ for a special price if they undertake a trip in Kenya with the whole family.
Will this solve the problem? I don’t think so, but it will definitely be a step in the right direction.
Isaac Sindiga, 1996, Domestic Tourism in Kenya, Pergamon