Despite being home to the Big 5: the African elephant, African rhino, African leopard, Cape water buffalo, and the African lion, Kenya is teeming with so much more than wildlife, like pristine beaches, nightlife and shopping, and even cruises through the Indian Ocean, and the new Magical Kenya aims to promote just that.
That was the message of Professor Jane Onsongo, deputy head of mission, Kenya and Susan Webb, president, VoX International, at an event held in Toronto last week to showcase Kenya to a Canadian audience.
“As we all know, tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange for Kenya after agriculture," said Onsongo, who is based in Ottawa. "With the onset of global warming and climate change, we can no longer rely on agriculture, but we still get a lot of foreign exchange from tourism."
Travellers unfamiliar with Kenya's economy might be surprised to learn that yoga festivals, stand-up paddling with dolphins, and even mountain climbing are all very popular activities. Surrounded by incredible natural landscapes and a warm tropical climate year-round, Kenya is becoming a very popular destination for Canadians.
Professor Jane Onsongo, deputy head of mission, Kenya, speaks at the Magical Kenya event in Toronto.
"The Kenyan government has put a lot of money into developing the tourism product in Kenya, and the endorsement has been excellent," said Susan Webb, president, VoX International. "The tourism growth for 2015 and 2016 had a 6.8 per cent increase, but Canadians alone represented 14 per cent. That is a really positive step forward towards growing the tourism industry."
Despite its recent strides in developing the tourism sector, Onsongo acknowledges that Kenya is very much aware of the reputation it sometimes gets in the media.
"Most of you are reading about what is happening [in Kenya] and we want to assure our partners that there is no problem; we are still focused on promoting Kenya as a tourism destination," Onsongo said. "Tell your clients there is nothing to fear.”
To reaffirm the idea that Kenya is in fact a very safe place to visit, the Kenyan government has increased security measures all throughout the country for both locals and tourists.
"Approximately 50 per cent of Kenya’s budget is now in security, and they have intensified all ground and aerial patrols, and added security checks at all entry points to the airports," Webb said.
"One of the greatest things Kenya has done is introduce a Tourist Police Unit (TPU) which is dedicated to tourism areas in Mombasa and Nairobi, to help tourists if they are lost or need information, and it’s had a very positive reaction. Kenya is a very safe destination."
As tourism continues to flourish in the country, Kenya has introduced several new initiatives to make travel easier for Canadians and other international visitors.
The first is an online visa application intended to make the process accessible from home. The Kenyan government has also waived the visa requirement for children under the age of 16, as a means to encourage family travel to, from, and through Kenya and surrounding African countries.
Susan Webb, president, VoX International, speaks at the Magical Kenya event in Toronto.
"Kenya is the heartbeat of Africa," Webb said. "The main airport is Africa's business hub, and more than 125 flights depart from there each day." A direct flight from the USA has just recently been approved by the FFA, which means that in a short time, American travellers will be able to enter Kenya without having a stopover in Europe.
Before any direct flights are allowed, the FFA must conduct an extensive audit, and the Nairobi airport has been awarded this grant, which will make Kenya Airways the very first airline to offer this type of service.
Alongside a new visa program, the Kenyan government has introduced the Standard Gauge Railway which is a flagship project of the Kenya Vision 2030, meant to industrialize Kenya.
Now, Kenyans and visitors alike can get from Nairobi to Mombasa in four hours instead of eight hours at a cheaper rate. The new trains feature first class and standard class, with a premier business class coming by the end of the year.
"We are committed to providing a conducive environment for both investment, and the tourists visiting the country," Onsongo said. "We have recently witnessed a number of milestones geared towards improving the country's economic standing in the region and so far we have been acknowledged as the ninth largest economy in Africa with a fast growing economy in the sub-saharan region."
With the recent airport renovations, enhanced security measures, and influx of new tourist activities, Kenya is well on its way to becoming a global destination. An estimated 25 million new travellers are expected to arrive into Nairobi alone by 2025.