What “innovation”, for East African Tourism and Travel, industry really means

At various tourism industry fora, and more recently at this year’s Tourism Innovation and Change Forum, we have heard “innovation” mentioned over and over, in relation to tourism and travel. At the last event, a one and the half-day high level forum attended by who-is-who in the tourism industry, delegates went on to sign a “Pledge to Innovate” and Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala urged the sector to “come to [him] with solutions, ideas and seek help from the government”.

Presenting to the Kenyan Cabinet at Tourism and Innovation Conference

What does “innovate” really mean for the East African Tourism and Travel industry?

There have been some new approaches or case studies, worth noting or referencing for solutions to this “innovation” stagnation, with a little more refinement — no need to reinvent the wheel to get the juices flowing.

The Great Migration Social Media Takeover

Last year, Kenya Tourism Board engaged local content creators to promote The Great Migration in Mara. They teamed up with Angama Mara and Spirit of Masai Mara as the hosts.

Team #TwendeMara in Maasai Mara promoting the Great Migration

Since there are associations in the different conservancies in Mara or Narok County itself, the group had hoped to see a joint effort say between a conservancy, airline, tour operator and perhaps the guys who do Hot Air Balloon Safaris or perhaps Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), to promote this year’s great migration.

Private sector brands using travel as a touch point

Case Study 1: Safaricom Jazz Festivals

Safaricom has generally excelled in this area with an athletic series, the Safaricom Jazz Festival, Capture Kenya initiative and shooting commercials that deliberately showcase the beauty of the country. Bob Collymore, while speaking at the Tourism Innovation and Change forum asked hoteliers why none of them had approached him to host the Jazz Festival in Mara, Mombasa or elsewhere. If the quarterly Safaricom Jazz events had fixed dates, then international travellers would have incentive to plan their holidays around them and similar cultural events. Whilst dates are subject to artist availability and corporate calendar, I believe the main festival should at the very least have a six-week prior notice period to allow tour operators cross sell packages.

Case Study 2: Saffir Africa’s “Saffir Lunatic Express” Playbook

Saffir Africa in partnership with Tecno Mobile, Urban Kichen, Famous Grouse and Uber Kenya organized The Saffir Lunatic Express; a one-way, budget train trip on the meter gauge railway to the coast, topped by two memorable nights at Distant Relatives Kilifi Eco Lodge, Kilifi County. On board, we had thirty-eight amazing people brought together by a love for adventure, history, and the ultimate turn-up; a 15-hour party on the last scheduled train to Mombasa!

Left: Brian Wathanga, a photographer/filmmaker and co-founder of TurnUp.Travel. Right: The group arrived by train on the Changamwe platform in Mombasa.

Sponsors like Tecno Mobile (Kenya) gave “influencers” gadgets and gear to document the experience, Famous Grouse sponsored drinks for the party on the train and the beach, Fresh Urban Ki.chen served tasty treats on-board, Uber gave cab credits to transfer the group from Mombasa to Kilifi — all these plugged into a unique concept to add more value to the package and promote their brands. It would be great to see more brands riding on travel as a touch point without necessarily building a campaign from scratch; plug in and play.

The Saffir Lunatic Express social media teasers featuring the partner logos.

The Lunatic Express need not be discontinued. Instead, Kenya Railways should consider making it available for bespoke slow trips with parties on board catering to different categories of travelers.

Explore Turkana: Counties teaming up with creators to package and promote county attractions

Turkana County is positioning itself as a unique tourist destination to attract more visitors and potential investors to Turkana Land. The Turkana County Government — Department of Tourism — partnered with Turnup.Travel to host twenty-five tour operators and seven social media “influencers” for a week-long familiarisation trip.

Photographers, Cinematographer, bloggers, Kenya Tourism Board and Turkana County Tourism Officers

To the outside world, Turkana, being a seldom-reached destination, is a very inhospitable land where survival is limited to the fittest, but we had an amazing experience. A brand unto itself with all her site attractions, electrifying night-life and friendly people; the camera crew and travel bloggers documented the origin of mankind (this has since been disproved, Turkana may need to re-brand) behind the lens and shared incredible stories. The results and buzz have been phenomenal and the timing was perfect as Turkana County was showcasing at ITB Berlin, with all the content popping up online and great conversations around what Turkana as a destination has to offer.

Counties could collaborate with content creators to package themselves as a preferred destination, create routes and map out accommodation — beds and attractions. Beyond that, why not publish statistics annually to identify gaps for investment since they have investors summits and expos? Is it possible to have them promote Private Public Partnerships and run media campaigns to differentiate their products and have Magical Kenya sub brands? Most counties do have annual festivals and regular cultural events, which, if packaged and marketed well, could draw in visitors all year round to boost tourism and trade.

96-Hour Transit Visa and Madaraka Express Train

CS Balala announced plans to offer a 96-Hour Transit Visa at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and lower visa and park entry fees to encourage visitors all year round. With the Madaraka Express now operational, there’s opportunity to boost tourism with a 3-night, 4-day package. Day 1: upon arrival sample the city life, and attractions, Day 2 board Madaraka Express to Mtito Andei and go explore the Tsavos and spend a night, and then on Day 3 proceed to the Coast — Mombasa or Diani or Watamu for a day of water sports, and then catch a flight either from Malindi, Ukunda or Moi airports back to JKIA.

SGR Mombasa Terminus

This can be arranged by a tour operator, or listed as an Airbnb experienced so that the host accompanies the guests just like the Iceland Stopover Buddy program. Alternatively, if you land in the morning you can head straight to Syokimau to catch the 9:30 am train.

The introduction of a 6 pm Madaraka Express departure from Nairobi on Fridays, will make weekends at the coast a reality for many young people looking for an alternative party scene before returning to the hubbub of Nairobi.

Lower park and visa fees during low season

This will boost “low season” travel and eventually blur the “low season”- “high season” inward bound travel gap for visitors, for spending on travel, and subsequently keep businesses running all year round, rather than seasonally.

Business-to-business Associations: Call for more cooperation and collaboration beyond lobbying and capacity building. Taking an ecosystem approach to destination marketing efforts where everyone wins. People who travel have changing tastes and lifestyles and want varied experiences on a single trip, the properties and travel agencies must respond to this for sustainability. For instance, why not offer bed and Breakfast at the landing property, and then lunch and dinner vouchers at two other neighbouring properties, as well as discounted rates/vouchers for activities (water sports, hiking tours, horse riding, zip-lining, sky diving, bungee jumping, etc.) in other properties within a single travel package?

These are just a few ideas with opportunities for offshoot concepts.


About TurnUp.Travel

TurnUp.Travel re-imagines travel by putting people′s goals first and places second. We′re all about people. In as much as travel is often about the destinations, we believe we can make every moment a great experience — pre-, during and post-.

We bring an entire ecosystem of partners well aligned to overall success of the event.

About Saffir

Advancing experiential travel.

Saffir is a travel destination marketing company that explores the latent potential of destinations and properties, while creating multiple experiences for travelers in a single trip. Saffir aims to lead in technology, new media and innovative promotion of tourism and travel sector. Saffir includes a team of event-design, content-creation, marketing, public relations, data aggregation, and travel experts, who share a passion for experiential travel.

By Velma Kiome and Muthuri Kinyamu

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