Kenya has seen a steady rise in tourist arrivals for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) over the past few years. In 2015 the country hosted 117,630 foreign arrivals taking part in MICE activities, representing a 13% increase on the 2014 total, and 15.6% of all international tourist arrivals for the year. To boost the segment, in September 2016 Najib Balala, cabinet secretary for tourism, announced the formation of a special task force to establish a Kenya Convention Bureau, which would promote the MICE segment. Currently, this responsibility falls under the purview of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) and the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).
State Of The Industry
The uptick is part of a welcome recovery in the tourism sector, which saw a slowdown in 2015 on the back of a handful of high-profile security incidents. By the end of 2016, there was a 16.7% increase in the number of inbound foreign visitors coming through Kenya’s two main air hubs, according to the KTB. Non-Kenyan arrivals at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport totalled more than 874,885 over the year, a more than 100,000 year-on-year rise in foreign arrivals. Revenue from tourism is also expanding, with sector earnings in the first half of this year totalling $470m, according to data released by Balala at the beginning of September. This put the industry on track to generate year-end revenue of $1bn, as the peak tourism season was just opening, he told a meeting of industry representatives. Final revenue totals for 2016 had yet to be released as of April 2017.
The government has launched several initiatives to sustain the recovery and generate MICE activity. According to Ministry of Tourism, for example, the budget for tourism marketing has more than doubled to $43.9m in 2016. “Incoming conferences will be positive for tourism, and will also create confidence,” Jacinta Nzioka Mbithi, director of marketing at the KTB, told OBG. “Significant improvements have been made in terms of security, while media spending has also surged, which has helped perceptions.” In light of the incidents in 2013 and 2015, improving safety and reducing crime and violence has been a priority for the government, with 2015 budget witnessing a 12% increase to $2.5bn for security spending.
Climbing The Ranks
The improvements have led to greater recognition on the global level, with Nairobi named “Africa’s Leading Meetings and Conference Destination 2016” by the World Travel Awards in April 2016, having been one of the runners up for each of the past three years. However, it is not just Nairobi — which is home to the KICC — that is raising its MICE tourism profile; other areas in Kenya also investing in developing conference-hosting capacity and hotels. “There are several large new business and city hotels in Nairobi that will cater to the increased demand for MICE. Similarly, there are many resorts along the coast, which are providing for conference facilities as they develop their products,” Mbithi told OBG.
One example is the Pride Inn Paradise Beach Resort and Convention Centre, located in Mombasa. Opened in March 2016, the hotel aims to fill the gap in the beach tourism segment for resort conferencing. The resort has 300 rooms and a convention centre, with capacity for 4500 delegates. Another example of a resort-style hotel looking to capture the MICE segment is the Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa. The resort, which was named “Africa’s Leading Beach Destination” by World Travel Awards for three years in a row beginning in 2014, has revamped its conference facilities.
Kenya is also working to attract events to populate its growing conference venues. To this end, in September 2016 Kenyan officials announced that the country would be bidding to host the 2018 World SKAL Congress, an international association of travel and tourism professionals. SKAL had been scheduled to hold its annual summit in Mombasa in 2015, but changed the venue in May over security concerns in the city.