According to UN World Tourism Organization Tourism hit the 1billion tourists mark in 2012 and will continue to be a key pillar of economic development for many developing counties. Kenya has not been left behind.
In Kenya’s Vision 2030, tourism is one of the key pillars expected to deliver some of the key objectives of the Vision such as poverty alleviation of poverty, job creation and economic diversification.
Although it is not automatic that all counties will select tourism as a priority, there is no doubt that majority of counties will explore the opportunities provided by tourism in an attempt to diversify their economy and deliver on the expectations of their people.
The new county system allows locals to actively define the agenda for their counties now and in the future. Because the destiny of the citizens in the county are interdependent, these is more commitment among the citizens to make their development plans work.
It stimulates the need to explore their resources and how best it can work for them unlike before where everybody depended on the central government to solve all their issues.
With every new horizon, challenges are expected and in the county system, they will abound. Some of the challenges as far tourism is concerned may include lack of information on potential products can be developed and promoted, lack of knowledge on market trends in regional and international tourism, lack of funds, pressing needs such as health and poverty , political interference, and the lack of necessary skills to develop, manage and market the county.
As stakeholders, both private and public grapple with how to take advantage of the county system, it is important to note that a successful destination will need a critical mass i.e. adequate resources facilities, infrastructure and amenities to entertain tourists without sacrificing the needs of the host community.
For this reason, there is need to probably categorize counties with similar characteristics together to form regional tourism circuits as per the JICA Tourism master plan of 1995 where Kenya was divided into 7 tourism circuits based on the tourism resource base in these areas.
As matter of fact, there are currently various regional tourism associations that have been formed along these lines such as the L.Victoria Travel & Tourism association; North rift tourism association, Mombasa & Coast tourism association, Lamu tourism association and Mt. Kenya Tourism Association all of which have been very active in regional product audits, addressing regional tourism issues, lobbying for better business environment, education and promotions as well as coordinating regional tourism events.
Opportunities abound in the county system for all stakeholders including public and private sector; tourists in terms of diverse experiences, host communities in terms of leisure, recreations as well as employment and investment opportunities.
With the county system and commitment from the local leaders and citizens, it is expected that there will be better management of local destinations, optimum utilization of all the resources available at the county, accountability amongst leaders, rich product inventory hence a diversified portfolio and authentic experience and of course more active participation of locals in crafting their own destiny.
The county system is here to stay, atleast in the foreseeable future. How then can the opportunities availed by the county system be enhanced and sustained?
Well, Kenya is among the many governments that has committed to sustainable development and transformation into the green economy. Sustainable tourism development at the County level then is the obvious way to go.
Sustainable development refers to a type of development that meets the needs and aspirations of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Secondly, the implementation of the current Tourism Policy to the later is important as it underscores the need of entrenching sustainable development is all aspects of tourism development both at the national and county levels.
Sustainable tourism focuses on five key principles of economic prosperity, environmental quality, social justice, local involvement & control, and education of stakeholders.
Thirdly, instead of re-inventing the wheel, we could look at best practices from around the world such as South Africa where they have formed regional tourism authorities to aid in managing tourism at local levels.
Fourthly, there’s need to empower locals to take advantage of the opportunities available in the tourism industry through provision of funds, training and education, stakeholder identification and active involvement; and establishment of sustainability indicators for the local destinations.
Last but not least, there is need to establish a framework for managing county / regional destinations sustainably where all stakeholders benefit, plans are integrated and tourism base resources are protected for future generations. Tourism cannot be developed in isolation.
The Local Agenda 21 for Travel and Tourism Industry (sometimes referred to as LA21), an outcome of the Rio Summit in 1992 which was later adapted for the tourism industry by the UNWTO, WTTC and the Earth Council.
It is an approach through which a local community defines sustainable development strategy and action programme to be implemented.
It provides a framework for policy and planning at the local and national levels. The LA21 philosophy is that each community/ destination is different hence its priorities and actions will be different though all go through the same planning process.
The LA21 framework has three objectives which include meet a preventive goal (Rule no. 1: Do no harm), address existing problems and strike a balance between the needs of tourists and residents. The guiding principles under LA21 include partnerships, participation and transparency, systematic approach, concern for future, accountability, equity and justice and ecological limits.
In general, LA21 planning process requires setting of goals, SMART objectives, deciding on appropriate sustainability indicators, establishing monitoring procedures, ensuring local priorities as well as partnerships and participation of all stakeholders.
In all these process, stakeholders have an opportunity to add the voice in the process of shaping the county tourism agenda.
The LA21 framework promotes national and local governments working together tourism development, management and promotion.
In this case, the national tourism policy, the tourism act, national tourism master plan and national tourism marketing strategy will provide direction to development at the local level.
Their involvement in these processes is paramount. It’s an amazing time to be in the industry! Opportunities abound for the industry to shape the future, make lasting contribution to local livelihoods, and sustained tourism businesses while enriching the experiences of tourists.