One important outcome of the strategic planning workshops held to redefine and restructure KWS was the belief that if tourism was expected to generate significant funds for conservation in Kenya, then the organization needed to focus on tourism as one of its three core goals. New initiatives in Tanzania and Uganda, as well as renewed world interest in South Africa, with its excellent infrastructure and amenities, mean that tourists now have more options than ever before when choosing a safari destination. New trends in the market such as ecotourism mean that many visitors now expect considerably more from a visit to Africa than the typical “Big Five” package Kenya has offered for so long. The 1993 formation of the Commercial Department, which was a step in the right direction but lacked a specific focus on the tourist as customer. With this new department in place, KWS is now prepared to meet the challenges of tourism development and promotion.
Like the Biodiversity and Partnership departments, the Tourism Department’s focus is the field. Regional Tourism Co-ordinators with the requisite business and people skills have been chosen for each of the eight regions through an open and highly competitive selection process. Collective monthly meetings organized by the headquarters team will enable them to function as a tourism body for all of KWS, dealing with issues and goals in a common way.
The Regional Tourism Co-ordinators are supported by additional tourism-oriented personnel, identified or recruited during the restructuring process, including specialized Tourism Rangers who will be trained to provide a welcoming and informative presence from the moment visitors enter a protected area’s gates. Through training, all tourism personnel will be provided with essential knowledge of Kenya’s position within the world tourism market and sensitized to the importance of word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat visits – and how the service they provide can make a difference to the visitor’s stay as well as future numbers.
The Tourism Department’s headquarters staff provides an essential link to the tourism industry. In addition to nurturing regional personnel’s vision of Kenya’s special niche within the larger world of tourism, the Tourism Department is responsible for promoting KWS’s “product” so as to influence tourist decision-making in Kenya’s favour. The department is also constantly on the lookout for new ways to meet customers’ and tour operators’ needs and assists the regions in developing strategies to meet them.
As a first step in devolving tourism development to the field, the Regional Tourism Co-ordinators scrutinized their “products” – the national parks and reserves and the biodiversity they contain – along with the key tourism objectives and strategies detailed in KWS’s corporate plan. The result was a prioritized list of desirable accommodation-development and management, marketing and retail, finance and visitor-care activities for the regions under their stewardship. In December, regional tourism personnel participated in a joint workshop to select essential projects for 1997 based on departmental and regional budgets, develop prioritized work plans and set target revenues for each region.
In November, three headquarters staff members, three RADs and one Regional Tourism Co-ordinator attended the World Travel Market trade show in London. The KWS participants also visited prime tourist attractions such as the London Zoo, Kew Gardens and the National Museum, where visitor care, information dissemination and retailing are of a particularly high standard. A December visit to South Africa’s national parks involving headquarters personnel and the eight Regional Tourism Co-ordinators provided additional learning experiences and information-sharing opportunities.
The Tourism Department launched a special feature, “The Quarterly KWS News”, in the September issue of Travel News, the main travel-industry publication in Kenya. The attractively designed four-page spread featured Tsavo East National Park and included updates on developments within KWS such as the Beach Management Programme, the opening of Sebastian’s Safari Walk Cafe at headquarters in Nairobi and relevant personnel appointments. Future editions will provide an important channel through which KWS and the Tourism Department can continue developing better communications with tourism industry operators in Kenya and abroad.
The Tourism Department has continued to monitor the implementation of the Mombasa Beach Management Programme and evaluate its success. The Beach Management Fee introduced on a trial basis in the North Coast Hotels in 1995 has been a tremendous success, increasing KWS revenues in the area by 100%. Although much remains to be done, visitors, tour operators and boat owners generally agree that measures implemented to patrol the beachfront, reduce harassment of tourists, ease tensions between hoteliers and boat operators, and provide better information and services are having a beneficial effect on Kenya’s tourism image.
In response to industry requests for efficient and fast service at the gates, the Tourism Department is reviewing KWS gate and revenue-collection procedures. Changes most likely will be introduced in 1997.
The Tourism Department held a one-day workshop in October to identify specialized training needs in such areas as teamwork and finance as well as general tourism training to be implemented once the restructuring process is complete.
Finally, the department has embarked upon the development and production of visitor-information brochures and maps for sale as a follow up to the very successful production of a tour planner and the map of Kenyan parks introduced to the market in 1995.