We should leverage on Safer Tourism Seal status

Thursday, September 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala talks to the media in Mombasa last year. Photo/PD/ NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Kenya is on top of the world, again. This time, not due to athletes’ conquests at the Olympics, World Championships or World Marathon Majors; not even Rugby Sevens.

Last month, Kenya became the first country in the world to be awarded the recommended status of the ‘Safer Tourism Seal’ by a group of world renowned tourism authorities, known collectively as Rebuilding Travel.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala was presented with the award in a virtual event attended by global tourism chiefs under the pro-tourism industry group comprising members of tourism boards, ministers of tourism, professional associations, industry stakeholders, researchers, academics and travellers.

All this happening in the middle of a pandemic is testimony to Kenya’s revered position as a global tourism destination.

Luckily, the award has come at a time when tourism is slowly re-opening after suffering a major setback due to Covid-19.

It was good news for Kenyans, and the government can leverage on such recognition to bring more accolades to the country.

Much has been said about the country being made a global sports destination as India is with medicine, California is with film and ICT or Israel is with agriculture, Egypt with archaeology and tourism, Brazil with football and so on.

Many African countries compete with Kenya on the tourism front. We cannot match the white sands of Seychelles or Mauritius, for instance, or the rich history associated with the Pyramids of Giza.

But the two countries pale in comparison when it comes to sporting activities of world-class status.

If only State Departments for Sports and Tourism could bring synergy on making Kenya a sporting tourism destination, this can bring tons in foreign exchange.

Many top athletes take advantage of Kenya’s friendly climate to train for global competitions.

Most of this training takes place in high altitude areas of Rift Valley province such as Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet or Ngong in Kajiado county.

Kenya also hosts a globally-recognised golf tournament, Kenya Open, which is part of European Challenge Series.

Efforts are also being put in place to return Safari Rally to the World Rally Championships circuit. Safari Sevens has taken a battering in recent years, but it can still be revamped to its hitherto global status.

Many world celebrities, royalties, socialites, musicians, actors and TV talk show stars often sneak into the country.

Bureaucrats need to rethink strategies of making this happen. Sports CS, Dr Amina Mohamed, has been preoccupied with campaigns to take over the leadership of World Trade Organisation.

Where is her priority? This is a matter the appointing authority should look into seriously.

Other state departments, including transport, infrastructure, health, security and immigration, whose presence is relevant in this endeavour can be brought on board to ensure full synergy.

This will ensure visiting sports stars are assured of security, safe and comfortable travel around the country, training in good facilities and medical attention in world class facilities on the ground.

This is the kind of direction we should take with our Safer Tourism Seal. It should not be celebrated within the walls of Ministry of Tourism, Kenya Tourism Board and leave it at that.

We can do a lot more with such accolades. But our bureaucrats at sports department are usually content with Olympic medals, travelling around the world earning per diem, some that are subject of major scandals and attendant lengthy court cases.

Why cannot they look beyond such accolades and victories? Food for thought.— The writer is a journalist who comments on topical issues 

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