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Despite dozens of tourism attraction sites, counties in former Nyanza and Western provinces are yet to reap from rising domestic and international visitors

Frustrated investors in the hospitality and tourism sector in Western Kenya are scratching their heads to jumpstart a dormant domestic travel industry.

The chairman of a consortium of hoteliers, tour operators and airline managers set up  to market the region, Ouma Oluoko, regrets that despite its rich tourism attractions, Western Kenya is performing below par on the domestic front.

The Western Kenya Tourism Circuit comprises Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Kericho, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, Nandi and Trans Nzoia counties. Oluoko said the consortium has launched a marketing drive to woo domestic and international tourists to the region.

During a recent visit to the region, Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala challenged stakeholders to develop products that will increase the region’s attractiveness. “This region lacks national competitiveness due to undeveloped and poorly packaged tourism products,” he said.

Collaborative efforts

While assuring on the State’s commitment to market the region, he said the stakeholders must do their best to develop and package the existing local products. “We need to see collaborative efforts by the sector players in shaping up the region’s domestic tourism hubs so that it stands to be competitive among the other best performing tourism circuits,” said Balala.

Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala (centre), Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o in Kisumu during the Western Circuit Tourism Forum last month. Photo/DANIEL OGENDO

He stressed the need for collaboration between county governments and private sector to boost local arrivals.

Balala told counties within the region to invent new marketing strategies to make them more competitive.

He urged counties to shift focus to promoting culture and beach tourism whose potential remains largely untapped. He said the ministry’s plan to set up regional tourism councils is on course, a move that seeks to market tourism products as single entities.

“Tourism is a major catalyst to the growth of the country’s economy, contributing more than 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We want to move the sector from being a private investor-driven business to a government-centred investment,” added Balala.

During the Western Kenya Hospitality Leaders Association’s investment conference held in Kisumu town recently, Kenya Tourism Federation  chairman Mohammed Hersi also challenged players in the region to position the industry to compete globally.

Hersi pointed out inadequacies in marketing and poor packaging of the region’s products as a reason for dwindling performance, especially for domestic tourism. “The dynamics of tourism are changing fast;  therefore, we must make the Western Kenya circuit tourism lively and competitive,” he said.

Balala also called for urgent interventions to eradicate hyacinth from Lake Victoria, saying the lake is a focal point for leisure tourism. He noted that water transport in the lakeside, which is essential for the sector, had been jeopardised by the ragging hyacinth infestation.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o wants the counties’ tourism executives to introduce better ways of marketing the region’s tourism products. The governor has also appealed to the Lake Region Economic Bloc counties to pull resources towards promoting domestic tourism.

“As a region, we must endeavour to come up with ideas bankable to the ministry on the plans to improve tourism growth,” he said.

During the forum, stakeholders mentioned poor infrastructure, double licensing and insufficient budgetary allocations by the counties as major bottlenecks to the region’s tourism growth.

National Museums

The developments come as the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) intensifies plans to start marketing the region’s hidden treasures, which have been less attractive.

The circuit is home to the magnificent tourism products and attraction sites such as the legendary Luanda Magere rock, Kit Mikayi rock, and Tom Mboya Mausoleum, Ruma National Park and Kakamega Forest.

One of the beautiful sites still attracting few tourists despite their vantage positions includes Thimlich Ohinga in Nyatike constituency in Migori county.

The historic cultural site, now managed by the National Museums of Kenya, is a living testimony to a unique cultural tradition of stonewall fortifications that has lasted for years. It is the largest and best-preserved example of this fortification tradition in the region said to have been built in the 16th century.

Other attractive sites include Ndere Island (Kisumu), E’l Molo Crocodile Park (Siaya), Simbi Nyaima (Homa Bay), Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Museum (Siaya), Got and Kweru (Migori).

Domestic tourism

KTB has outlined plans to start marketing the local attractions, especially little known sites to showcase them and boost tourism.

KTB chief executive Betty Radier says the agency has set up a business development unit, expected to enumerate and register the sites across the country up to June this year. “The conclusion of this exercise will give us a pointer in marketing the areas and help the country generate extra income,” she said.

As a strategy to open up new areas, the board has constituted a team tasked to bring together players operating little-known destinations from both the public and private sector.

Radier says the board aims at raising the Kenyan domestic tourism to hit 4.5 million bed nights by June, from the average 3.9 million recorded in 2018.

“We realised that extra efforts are needed in creating awareness about our tourist destinations if we are to wholly harness the domestic tourism potential,” she added.

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