Magical Kenya taps on digital growth to market destinations

Thursday, October 28th, 2021 00:00 | By
Traditional dancers entertain guests during a past Magical Kenya Travel Expo. Photo/PD/COURTESY

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of marketing and interactions have shifted to online, something the Kenya Tourism Board has leveraged to sell the country’s tourism spots to the world.

The tourism sector has undergone remarkable transformation due to the digital advances achieved.

For instance, for the first time, the Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2020 (MKTE) went virtual on October 5-6, 2021, as a new way of embracing technology during the pandemic period.

The annual event, which was postponed due to Covid-19, has over the years attracted travel trade from about 40 countries from across the globe and it’s the largest  tourism fair in the region.

The buyers include tour operators, travel agents and Destination Management Companies (DMCs) from Kenya’s key tourism source markets in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.

It brings together domestic, regional and international tour operators, travel agents, destination agencies and various other players in the tourism trade to network and facilitate tourism business.

One critical element and a priority for the industry’s recovery in this new post Covid dispensation is safety of travellers all over the world, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala emphasises.

Speaking at the two-day event, Balala called upon industry players to implement lessons learnt from the pandemic, as they market their products and experience offering to travellers.

“As we move forward, we must take into consideration the fact that we now have a changed traveller, a traveller who is more health conscious and makes decisions with this consideration,” said  Balala.

The CS also stated that there was need to find ways to increase connectivity within the continent by easing visa processes.

“Technology must be used more effectively to market destinations and to pique travellers’ interest, despite certain borders still being closed. 

We should encourage our populations to get vaccinated, so that we can be safer both for ourselves and each other,” he said.

Recovery strategies

He added that the ministry would soon develop a post-Covid-19 mitigation strategy to fasten the recovery of the tourism sector that has received a heavy hit from coronavirus.

“To keep pace with the fast-changing needs of visitors and challenges faced by the tourism industry, the industry has to act swiftly and adjust its strategies for tourism development from time to time,” he added.

Under the theme ‘Reigniting the Magic of Travel’, the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has developed a strategy that is adaptable with the prevalent changes and they are keen on aligning policies with key ministries to foster domestic travels.

“Unlike physical events, the virtual meetings are well organised, as people don’t need to move from place to place to attend their sessions, which makes it more organised and time conscious driving more engagement from the participants,” said KTB chief executive officer Betty Radier.

She added that the plan for next year’s event is to have a physical event, but that will be hugely determined by the health situation globally because of Covid-19.

Though it was different, most exhibitors indicated that it was fruitful in terms of meeting buyers and getting sales.

“The event went well given that the matching up of buyers and exhibitors and the setting up of meetings was online, including the management of diaries. So, we were already familiar with this.

This allowed exhibiters to invite more buyers,” said Gamewatchers Safaris and Porini Camps product and marketing manager Jeremiah Chege.

For Euiboon Shim of Anytime Tours, it was a first time experience to be in the expo and to learn about Kenya.

“Many Korean people think that going to Africa is dangerous as we don’t have much information on African tourism.

However, the expo is really a great opportunity to learn about the market,” she says.

Innovative tech tools

Participants also got involved in thought provoking panel discussions and watch exciting on-demand videos of Kenyan destination.

In one of the discussions, tourism destinations boards discussed on the various ways they have adapted technology during the pandemic and the innovative digital tools they have used to entice travellers to visit their destinations.

David Germain, the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) regional director for Africa and the Americas, said they saw a major demand among the region’s local trade partners for digital services, noticing that there was an increase in demand on the destination’s website.

STB then launched ParrApi, a digital and online tourism platform that increases the visibility of the Seychelles islands through the internet.

“The platform serves to collect, store and distribute tourism information for different categories available within the region, assisting in marketing and easily accessing information to the Seychelles destination,” David explained.

The main industry in the Seychelles is tourism, which effects the lives of 75 per cent of people directly.

Most of their source market is from Europe, making it vital to remain visible and is, therefore consistently looking for the right tools to do so.

“When we go overseas or attend exhibitions to market Seychelles, we realised we always carried with us only three partners — the upmarket, the four and five star hotels partners because they had the budget to do so.

However, with the platform, the small establishments such as guest houses and self catering outfits get visibility at the international market and makes their business accessible to travellers,” he noted.

KTB Emerging Markets marketing manager Irene Katumo said they were attracting travellers to Kenya through partnerships with social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Facebook.

“Since the pandemic, we have seen the numbers rise within the digital space, and to engage with these audiences, we started to livestream events and destinations within the Kenya region on these different platforms,” said Irene.

She added, “The board also noticed that travellers share their experiences of destination they have been to online, whether it is where they are, or how the destination looks, which is how we decided to market the region through these platforms.”

Consumer monitoring

Key takeaways from the power panel were that it is important now more than ever for destinations to use their digital spaces, understand what kinds of experiences travellers are seeking and give them that access and experience.

The digital world gives companies a chance to monitor what consumers are doing, what is trending and allows destinations to tap into those needs and become key travel and tourism destinations, especially now that people have started to travel again.

Monika Iuel, the chief marketing officer at Wesgro in South Africa, said they had to think on their feet when they saw the impact on the region’s tourism within the short term and they needed to make sure that they still remain within the market for the long term.

Through a campaign called One Day, Wesgro created virtual tours and audio journeys for international travellers giving them different opportunities and content to interact with for the dream of one day going back to the Western Cape region for travel and tourism.

“We had to understand that people were locked down and we wanted to bring the world of the Western Cape into people’s living rooms using the digital space, so that they may dream and consider travelling to the destination again when travel was allowed,” Monika said in conclusion. 

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