By Hon. Najib Balala, EGH
2018 was quite significant for Kenya as a tourism destination in many respects. To start with, it was during that year that the number of visitor arrivals to Kenya crossed the two million visitors mark - marking a 37.3% growth over the number of arrivals recorded in the previous year. This saw the level of tourism earnings increase by 31.3% to Kshs. 157.3 billion in 2018.
The growth in tourist arrivals and earnings was largely attributable to political stability, improved security, withdrawal of travel advisories by Kenya's key source markets, visits by celebrities and influential individuals; as well as growth in the aviation sector, with the key highlight being the commencement of direct, non-stop flights between Nairobi and New York City by the national carrier, Kenya Airways.
Besides these great strides, Kenya marked yet another milestone as a destination - albeit on the sports front. The Kenya Open Golf Championship East and Central Africa's premier golf tournament, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year - took on a new status following its elevation from the European Challenge Tour to the main European Tour.
By joining the European Tour, Kenya's profile as a golf destination soared to a new height. It is a proud moment for the entire sporting fraternity, and ours too in the tourism sector, to be ushering-in this tournament as it attains a higher global status.
The move marked the culmination of a pledge by President Uhuru Kenyatta to boost the profile of the Kenya Open Golf Championship with a view to seeing it join the prestigious European Tour. Indeed, I am delighted to announce that the Government of Kenya, through the Kenya Tourism Board and Sports Kenya, are sponsoring this year's tournament. The sponsorship will see the Kenya Open's prize kitty increase to 1.1 million Euros - equivalent to over Kshs. 125 million.
Through the sponsorship, the Kenya Open Golf Championship will also prominently position Kenya's Destination brand - Magical Kenya - to a global audience through live TV broadcasting opportunities that will be availed through the tournament's new status. The Magical Kenya brand will receive wide visibility through live coverage by the European Tour (ET) Production Team that will be transmitted to over 490 million homes in more than 150 countries, generating in excess of 2200 global broadcast hours for each event.
The live feed will be available to 40 broadcasters around the world, including Sky Sports in the UK and The Golf Channel in the U.S. SuperSport are the official broadcasters in Africa.
Additionally, Kenya's golf tourism offering will be on show to golfers and golf fans across the world through the European Tour TV (ETTV), a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week online golf channel that is available in every territory across the entire planet reaching fans beyond the regular broadcast footprint.
This level of exposure is critical to Kenya's tourism success, especially viewed in light of the fact that the global golf travel market is between 6 and 9.1 million travelers. The US - Kenya's number one tourist source market - has the highest number of golf travelers at between 3.7 and 5.6 million travelers.
It is also noteworthy that golfers spend on average 50 to 60% more than standard leisure travelers. Additionally, there are 92 million golfers - both registered and recreational - around the world, with 10% of them travelling across the globe to play. This definitely makes golf an exceptionally-lucrative sector for Kenya's tourism industry to tap into. Kenya has a lot to show as a golf tourism destination - with over 40 golf courses, at least eight of which have hosted major tournaments and are considered to be of international standard. There are also a number of smaller courses that offer a unique experience. Take the Mount Kenya Safari Club which not only sits in the shadows of Africa's second highest mountain, but right along the equator where one can quite literally tee off in the northern hemisphere and putt out in the southern hemisphere. The Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife remains committed to consolidating the gains Kenya has made over the years and making Kenya a must-see destination for the discerning international golfer. It is against this backdrop, that we believe that this year's Kenya Open Golf Championship will significantly uplift our tourism outlook well beyond the realms of sport. The net result of this is an increase in tourism numbers in the future, translating to more revenue for the country and consequently an enhanced social and economic welfare of the Kenyan people. The writer is the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife.