By Danson Imbwaga Matekwa

“With more than one billion international tourists now traveling the world each year, tourism has become a powerful and transformative force that is making a genuine difference in the lives of millions of people. The potential of tourism for sustainable development is considerable.  As one of the world’s leading employment sectors, tourism provides important livelihood opportunities, helping to alleviate poverty and drive inclusive development.”

 Ban Ki-moon, Former United Nations Secretary-General

Kenya is one of the leading destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa mainly known as the home of the original Safari and iconic world marathon champions. For decades, millions of visitors have taken Safaris, meaning a journey to various wildlife habitats to experience nature, witness the wildlife spectacles, open wilderness, and interact with the indigenous communities. Kenya’s tourism is over 80% nature-based with the revenues generated going back to protect its base resources. 

The hotel industry in Kenya has significantly grown in the last 5 years, with hotels from Hilton, Radisson Blu, Pullman, Best Western and Mӧvenpick opening establishments in the country. Kenya’s 2018 tourist arrivals grew by 37.33 % from the previous year to cross the two million mark for the first time, posting a significant growth in earnings to USD 1.5 billion. The total contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP was USD 7.9 million, 9.7% of GDP in 2018.In 2018, the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry was 9.0% of total employment – 1,172,247 jobs (WTTC, 2018). It is against this vibrant growth that there is need to emphasise the importance of the industry’s adoption of more environmentally sustainable practices. 

Kenya’s Vision 2030, the national economic blueprint, recognizes tourism as one of the lead sectors with potential to contribute to 10% GDP growth. This has resulted in the repositioning of tourism through development of resort cities in the Kenyan Coast and Isiolo; and revamping of under-utilized parks; diversification to include new high value niche products and value addition to business-visitor offering. The Tourism Act, 2011 provides for the development, management, marketing and regulation of sustainable tourism and tourism related activities and services, and for connected purposes. To this effect, Kenya launched the National Tourism Blueprint 2030 and National Wildlife Strategy 2030 in June 2018, demonstrating the country’s commitment to developing these sectors. 

It is against this backdrop that the concept of Sustainable Tourism presents a significant opportunity to drive the country’s development agenda forward. According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”.

Therefore, sustainable tourism should:

1) Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

2) Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.

3) Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation. 

The Kenyan journey towards sustainability continues and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a good framework for prioritizing areas for sustainability initiatives for individuals, organizations and destinations in Kenya. The tourism industry, both private and public sectors, have a key role to play.  With global adoption of these goals, creating job opportunities, promoting local cultures, products and experiences, and developing & implementing tools to monitor the sustainable development impacts of tourism will be an ongoing focus for the Kenya tourism industry (KTB, 2016). Sustainable tourism is explicitly mentioned in three of the goals:

  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and productive patterns
  • Goal 14:  Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

Source: UNWTO

Going forward, the challenge for the tourism industry in Kenya and the world over is to make sustainable tourism mainstream rather than niche as well as making an impactful contribution towards achievement of the sustainable development goals as indicated above given the multiplier effect brought about by the vertical and horizontal linkages between tourism and other sectors of the economy.

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