Economic View

On building on the existing potential of the hospitality industry in East Africa

In which segments do you see the greatest potential for tourism growth in East Africa?

PETER FULTON: It is an exciting time for tourism in the region, which is now home to three of the world’s top-10 fastest-growing economies. In addition, strong investment in infrastructure across the continent is opening up a wide range of opportunities. Business tourism potential continues to expand, as does the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions segment, while a rapidly growing middle class is heading a new resurgence of domestic tourism. Furthermore, both international and local travellers are increasingly keen to explore destinations away from the traditional hotspots, evidenced by East Africa’s thriving tourism sector. This presents interesting opportunities for key players in the hospitality sector. Ethiopia, for instance, is actively working to maximise the value of its tourism sector through government initiatives to support foreign investors and private sector tourist organisations, both of which are seeing positive results. Likewise, in Tanzania and Rwanda the government has focused on attracting conference and meeting tourism following a recent review of its policy. This is also evident when we look at Kenya’s National Tourism Blueprint 2030, which has set an ambitious target of 26.4m domestic tourists by 2030, as well as committing significant resources to destination-specific marketing.   

What are Kenya’s competitive advantages as a tourism destination?

FULTON: Kenya is one of the most distinct tourist destinations in East Africa. Its natural resources are unrivalled, and its compelling history and culture are also major attractions. Everyone I know who has visited the country notes the genuine openness and warmth of its people. Kenya also has one of the strongest and most stable economies in the region, with promising growth forecasts for the future, and the recent expansion of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi with increased flights from destinations worldwide has made it even easier to access the country. All of this is driving the recent expansion of conference tourism, with Kenya ranking as the second-best destination for this in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the country won several prizes at the 2017 World Travel Awards, including the top safari destination, and Africa’s leading beach destination, national park and tourist board. All of these awards recognised the competitive advantages that have been essential in attracting business travellers and tourists alike, with the former now increasingly staying on longer to discover one of Africa’s treasures for themselves. 

How sustainable is the current level of hotel development in Kenya? 

FULTON: Hotel development across East Africa, and Kenya in particular, is booming. However, inbound tourism figures are keeping pace with this boom, and research predicts occupancy rates will rise over the five-year period to 2022. The introduction of incentives aimed at boosting the tourism sector, and strong investment in infrastructure from a development perspective, suggest there is clear potential for continued growth. 

How will direct flights to and from the US affect tourism arrivals to Kenya?

FULTON: Undoubtedly, direct flights between the two countries will have a positive impact on tourism arrivals. The relaxation of visa requirements and the waiving of landing fees at airports in recent years have also helped to create a renewed ease of travel between the US and Kenya. These incentives have all contributed to strong growth forecasts for the sector, as the region continues to attract interest from travellers across the globe. Another key driver of tourism in East Africa will be the introduction of the Single African Air Transport Market in 2018. This will significantly improve air connectivity and open up new opportunities for intra-Africa travel, with Kenya well positioned to be an attractive entry point for the region.