Time to seize post-Covid opportunities in tourism

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The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented destructive impact on all facets of life. Most economies, both in the developed and developing regions, saw a downward trend in their gross domestic product (GDP) growth projections. Thousands of people died.

To safeguard lives and livelihoods, the government went out of its way to increase disposable incomes for households and firms, instituted tax reviews and reliefs, established a national emergency Covid-19 fund into which even the private sector made significant contributions and reallocated resources to addressing the effects of the pandemic.

But the disease continued to ravage the economic and social lives of Kenyans. One of the most affected, but which offers great promise post-pandemic, is tourism. In 2019, the industry contributed 10.4 per cent of global GDP or a value of over $8.8 trillion (Sh1 quadrillion). The industry directly created one in every 10 jobs globally—or 319 million jobs.

In Kenya, arrivals grew by 3.9 from 2.02 million tourists in 2018 to 2.05 million in 2019. The industry was said to be the fastest growing and one of the leading earners of foreign exchange before Covid-19.

The country has shown significant recovery after registering a 34.76 per cent growth in international visitor arrivals last year, at 870,465 compared to 567,848 in 2020. This was especially due to its linkages with other sectors such as including agriculture, wildlife, manufacturing, banking, handcrafts, entertainment and hospitality. This gives the sector the potential to transform the social and economic facets of peoples’ lives post-pandemic.

Over the years, there has been over-dependency on nature-based products, which drive 80 per cent revenue in the industry. While they are important, there is a need to diversify. Travellers don’t invest so much time, effort and resources to enjoy a cozy hotel bed but rather a memorable experience.

For instance, the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre for Eastern Africa, in collaboration with the Tourism and Wildlife ministry, is spearheading a project to capture the ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ and ‘Emotional Selling Proposition’ within tourism products and experiences.

Recovery in the tourism industry and expanding product choices and quality is not enough. There is a need for strategic recovery, innovation and transformation upon which resilience can be built. There are blessings in disguise post-Covid-19 which, if seized and exploited, would create more resilient, adaptive, and competitive tourism businesses and creative economics. However, these opportunities need to be guided by research-driven solutions that are required to catalyse change in tourism industry.

We need to enhance human capacity to offer value-based professional services to domestic and international tourism. That calls for training and professionalising of services like tour guiding, especially in the fast-rising ecotourism and agrotourism.

Dr Wanjama ([email protected]) and Dr Munyiri ([email protected]) are researchers at Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub.