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Sector seen as more immune to growth curtailing factors, supported by branding and positioning, devolution and improved infrastructure.
Radisson Blu in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area
Kenya has recorded steady growth in the Meetings, Conference, and Incentives industry, per a recent report by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB). In 2016 alone, the MICE industry accounted for 13% of total international tourism arrivals; mostly consisting of business travelers. In 2015, the sector welcomed 117,630 tourists, recording a remarkable 14% increase on 2014 and marking a total contribution of 15.6%, of the total international arrivals for the year.
A report by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC 2016), business travel spending in Kenya contributed 32.5% of the total revenue. WTTC predicts a steady rise by 5.9% pa to Ksh. 242.6bn in 2026.
This report comes at the backdrop of an ongoing wave of interest by international hotel brands to put their imprint in the country’s growing MICE industry, as the government bids for more distinguished global conferences through the year. For instance, the much-hyped World Ministerial Conference that took place in Nairobi towards the end of year 2015 is estimated to have contributed Ksh 4.08bn ($44.9m) to the economy, with a larger fraction of the amount injected through the service industry.
Cyrus Onyiego, the Country Manager for Jumia Travel which connects travellers to more than 25,000 hotels within the continent via its online portal, explains that unlike the leisure frontier, business travelers are less perturbed by factors that affect the wider travel and tourism industry as compared to their leisure-seeking counterparts. “Continued investment in hotel development does not only portray confidence in Kenya, but also reassures the global economies that Kenya has the required capacity in both infrastructure and human resource, to cater for the growing MICE numbers.”
Among new brands set to open doors in Nairobi in the recent future include two more Carlson Rezidor’s Radisson Blu (Westlands and State House areas), Starwood’s Four Point coming up near the Jomo Kenyatta Airport – as is Hilton Garden Inn. The Best Western brand leads the pack with a plan to have five to six new establishments strewn all over the capital and its suburbs.
Apart from favorable accommodation and presence of recognized brands in the country, the business environment, access to the country’s capital via various international airlines and the fact that Nairobi ranks as Africa’s Leading Meetings and Conference Destination, as voted by World Travel Awards has granted the city a lead as compared to regional competitors.
Well-equipped conference centers, and high-adaptation and consumption of technology have also come in handy; to supplement the growing number of hotel conferencing facilities, the proposed a state-of-the-art Bomas International Conference and Exhibition Center, with a capacity for 10,000, exhibition hall to hold 15,000 people and five luxury hotels will go a long way in pushing the capital as the continent’s unrivalled MICE lead.
But Nairobi is not the only host benefitting from the conferencing sector. Other towns such as Nakuru, Naivasha, and Eldoret are also partaking in the spoils of the new trend. Factors such as devolution of power to the counties and ongoing development initiatives in the rural areas have majorly contributed to the sharing of this proverbial ‘national cake’. The Coastal province of Mombasa perhaps comes closest to Nairobi, for its developed hotel and resort structure.
Top on the bidding list for the Coastal region is SKAL tourism congress that was scheduled to take place in Mombasa (2015) only to be moved to Spain, after persistent travel advisories from the West. The government is however garnering its power points to seek a re-appointment for the 2018 conference, commonly referred to as “congress on the beach”. Among leading conference and resort facilities with a beach front, and scores of water adventures, culinary and a totally different ecosystem for business interaction includePrideInn Paradise Beach Hotel with a holding capacity of 2500+ delegates, and Leopard Beach Resort.
Credit: Lilian Gaitho, edited by Sam O. Abuya