Africa: Kenyan stand at UK travel fair fails to impress
For many years, the Kenyan stand at the World Travel Market in London has been one of the biggest attractions.
It typically occupies a large space where Kenyan tea, coffee and “dawa” cocktail is served while traditional dancers move to the beat.
A lot of Kenyan exhibitors have had enough room to sell their safaris and accommodation to people from all the corners of the earth.
WTM helps tourists discover which country offers the best sites, tour packages or hotels.
At times, it is about what individuals look for when they travel. It is, in essence, the mother of exhibitions and commands international media coverage.
However, that was not the case for Kenya last week.
One could only see a small congested place with few exhibitors and a “Magical Kenya” banner.
The Kenya Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism were not represented.
Exhibitors told the Sunday Nation that they were told at the last-minute that KTB would not participate in this year’s fair, held at the former Excel Centre now known as Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, in Docklands.
The exhibitors said it was not clear if this was a one-off or a new marketing strategy.
Kenya Association of Tour Operators MD Fred Kaigwa said KTB changed policy and stopped supporting the construction of stands. The board, however, offered help in branding.
Participating companies met all other costs, “which went up to £300,000″ (Sh39 million), Mr Kaigwa said.
Kenya Tour Federation helped the few participating firms put up a small stand and tables.
Mr Kaigwa said the private industry on its own cannot make the Kenyan stand what it was.
Mr Joseph Muya, an exhibitor, was not impressed with what transpired.
“The budget for WTM is made every year and it is not acceptable for KTB and the ministry to tell us at the last minute that they are cutting costs,” he said.
He added that the “poor” Kenyan stand was surrounded by countries that had done a lot of marketing.
“Look at the ‘Pearl of Africa’ for Uganda. Zimbabwe just got out of a crisis and is here with a big stand advertising ‘Wonders of Zimbabwe’. Then there is Tanzania with the ‘Home of Kilimanjaro’. There is nothing to say Our ‘Magical Kenya’,” he said.
Joy, an exhibitor from Turkana County, said the private tourism players “felt orphaned and abandoned by the government”.
“Just after the inaugural flight to New York, some people were asking for Kenya Airways and KTB but none was around,” she said.
Contacted, KTB chief executive Bettty said the board aligned its participation in key exhibitions with its strategies “and WTM is not one of them”.
She added that KTB would continue to support the private sector participate in such events.
By JULIUS MBALUTO