The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has been focusing on Innovation and Digital Transformation to shape the future of tourism.
Some member countries, however, are merely focusing on investing in the entire tourism ecosystem without employing digital analytical tools and focus the investment on what will pay most.
In 1990, Ethiopia had only 64,000 tourists. By 2018, the country's tourism sector grew by 48.6 percent, the largest in the world and contributing $7.4 billion to the economy from 1.4 million visitors. The industry supported 2.2 million employees.
Although Kenya has had a history with tourism having recorded 814,000 visitors in 1990, and at least two million in 2018, the sector's contribution to the economy was a paltry $1.55 billion and 1.5 million employees when compared to Ethiopia. In 2019, it injected $1.7 billion into the economy.
Mauritius with a similar history as Kenya recorded 1.4 million tourists in 2018, injecting $1.73 billion into the economy and providing some 70,000 jobs. Dubai in 1990 saw 450,000 tourists visit the city. By 2018, more than 16 million tourists visited the city and contributed $18.7 billion to the economy with about 650.000 employees in the sector.
These differences are as a result of different levels of investments within the ecosystem (airports, airlines, digital tools, accommodation and people) and use of technology to improve efficiency.
To succeed in tourism, we must think big. Very big. Kenya's continued reliance on the private sector to invest in the industry isn't working. So far, the investment made is a one-person venture that is undercapitalized. There isn't any effort to use technology to mobilize resources to make a significant impact on tourism. Several unfinished hotel investments are scattered across the country and occupying prime locations as white elephants.
Data has shown that Dubai, Ethiopia and Mauritius generate more revenue per employee. These destinations are more efficient than we are. Most have made massive investments in accommodation and other digital tools to cut cost. More significant, they have invested in modern airports and have airlines with a global connectivity reach.
In spite of Kenya having been a tourist destination for many years, the country has not leveraged on emerging technologies to win more tourists. Cities across the world are using big data to make informed decisions.
The country needs to partner with generators of data from immigration to telecommunications companies to have a 360-degree view of their customers.
UNWTO meeting in Manilla demonstrated how Spanish tourism is utilising big data from a wide array of sources resulting in information about tourists. These include the visitors' country of origin, how long they stayed for, which areas tourists preferred to stay in, which cities visitors preferred, and how much they spent, what customers like most. The data is then used to focus advertising on the right consumers.
Tourism promotions of countries are changing with messages targeting particular tourists. For example, the Georgia advert on CNN focuses on particular visitors in winter. Data perhaps has guided them to target their advert to where it pays the most. Kenya should review its promotion approach by segmenting the country and having different adverts at different times. There is no need to advertise Mara in January when all the animals are in Serengeti.
The future of tourism will mostly require a collaborative strategy complete with investment opportunities to expand the sector. The government must take the lead and develop a long-term plan encouraging resource mobilisation to build better facilities. A right investment product targeting diaspora to create a hotel chain in every county is overdue.
Instead of minimalist investments of a 50-bed hostel, we need to think big and build a 2,000-bed hotel with the conferencing facility of up to 5,000 in the coast. Build recreational parks, especially within coastal beaches to enable visitors to walk/run and discourage the current fencing in of properties that touch on riparian land. The idea of a conferencing facility in the coast a high priority during the Vision 2030 but nothing so far is in place.