Conferences drive hospitality sector
Business tourism is expected to grow revenues in 2020 through backward linkages to sectors such as transport, hospitality, agriculture and financial services, among others.
An aggressive international and local conferencing campaign pushed by stakeholders in the tourism industry helped push the hospitality industry to new heights last year.
Nana Gecaga, CEO at Kenyatta Intentional Convention Centre (Kicc), personally took charge of campaigns during the year, helping place business tourism to compete head-to-head with beach and wildlife safari tourism.
Gecaga says she has put plans through the Ministry of Tourism to ensure conferencing at KICC is an all-round business. “It is high time Kenya took up its rightful share of the meetings industry globally and this can only be achieved through aggressive marketing activities,” she says.
The tourism sector is increasingly turning to the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) segment for sustainability so as to overcome seasonality of leisure travel, which has previously been the local tourism sector’s mainstay.
Conference business is also looking up for hotels in Nairobi as local corporate and international clients increased frequency for strategy meetings to crank up revenues last year and in the year ahead. “Last year was more promising compared to 2018 which was characterised by the Dusit terror attack creating uncertainties within the industry,” said PrideInn Hotels Group Sales and Marketing Manager Farzana Zahir.
“We are scaling up our operations by deploying aggressive marketing strategies to attract more clients for seminars, end year dinners and conferences,” she added.
PrideInn Westlands General Manager Andrew Makau said it’s a really exciting time for the industry. “We are seeing a 30 per cent increase in accommodation and 40 per cent increase in the Pride Centre bookings, our biggest conference facility in Nairobi that takes up to 1,500 people,” he said.
KICC is tasked with growing MICE tourism in Kenya, an industry that contributes Sh24.6 billion annually and employs 24,000 people. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Kenya Airways (KQ) and KICC helps create synergies between them in sourcing for key Mice markets that both parties are targeting, as well as joint bidding for regional and international conferences.
The World Bank has classified business and travel as Kenya’s third major tourism product line behind the coastal beach and safari tourism product lines. “There is a large potential for Mice business in Kenya owing to its location and ease of international connections,” says Tourism Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala.
According Imelda Ndomo of the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF), globally, Mice is a fast growing industry, worth over $30 billion (Sh3 trillion), with an estimated 50 million Mice travellers annually. “This represents huge potential for growth of local tourism,” said an elated Gecaga after KICC was crowned as the leading meetings and conference centre in Africa at the World Travel Awards 2019.
Ndomo attributes the performance of the hospitality sector to Mice, which remained vibrant during the year, a key driver of the economy.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2019 says local conferences grew by 7.9 per cent in 2018 to 4,147, from 3,844 in 2017, signaling a growth in the MICE tourism sector. Stakeholders say this growth accelerated in 2019. “The growth in the sector has been largely enabled by the presence of conferencing facilities at KICC),” says Cytonn real estate developer CEO, Edwin Dande in a hospitality sector review report.
Notable conferences in 2019 included the International Conference on Population and Development (ICDP) Nairobi Summit that saw more than 6,000 world leaders converge in Nairobi. “International conferences of such stature solidify the confidence of the international community in Kenya as a preferred destination,” said Dande.
The growth of the hospitality sector has seen Nairobi edge out cities such as Johannesburg, Addis Ababa and Kigali to be crowned Africa’s leading business travel destination. JKIA received the African Airport of the Year Award during the 4th edition of ACA 2019 Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, while seven Kenyan hotels received various awards at the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2019 in Finland.
Other factors Dande singles out for the prosperity of the hospitality sector include improved security evidenced mainly by the reduced terrorist attacks. “This has boosted tourists’ confidence in the country, making it a preferred travel destination for both business and holiday travellers,” says Dande.
The strategic geo-positioning of Nairobi, in addition to the improving infrastructure, sets it up as a preferable regional hub for the East Africa Community, which has thus continued to enhance the growth of business travellers.
“Kenya’s hospitality facilities continue to receive global recognition, boosting the country’s status as a preferred travel destination globally while promoting it as an attractive investment opportunity,” says hotelier Jennifer Nzalani.
However, she says, travel advisories and delayed infrastructure projects such as the expansion works of Malindi Airport are some of the challenges the sector faced.
Conference tourism has a higher financial impact because travellers spend more than their leisure counterparts. Often, their expenses are paid by the organisations they represent, leaving the tourists with substantial disposable incomes to spend.
Reduced political activity and beefed up security has so far necessitated increased bookings n Nairobi region. “We are predicting another bumper season ahead,’’ said Farzana Zahir.
She says increasingly, business executives are also coming along with spouses and children to boost leisure tourism in Nairobi, which cushions business during low seasons. Bleisure is seen as beneficial to frequent travellers, and helps them to work efficiently, take stress out of business travel and have time to revitalise.
Delegates who come alone for business conferences prefer being joined by their families after assignments, so they stay all through the weekend.
“Guests who usually extend a day or two for leisure in Nairobi after their meetings,” said Farzana.