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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

On Technology and Transparency in African Tourism

[This is one of my longer posts, so here is a brief synopsis, followed by some more detailed thoughts and ideas:

Countries like Kenya, in times of crisis, aren’t necessarily closed for tourism. There are often many great, safe places to go on holiday. How could technology be used to create ways for possible tourists to find current, honest and credible information about a location before they cancel their trip due to inflated news stories that make you think a whole country is burning?]

Tourism and the economy vs the media and stories of unrest

Tourism in the Balance
I just got off the phone with someone who is heavily invested in the East African tourism market. As would be expected in times of unrest, tourists are canceling their flights, hotel rooms and safaris in Kenya. The long-term repercussions of the current crisis will hurt this $900 million industry badly. CNN recently did an article on just this, stating:

Conservationists in parks such as the Masai Mara say they rely on tourism to keep the parks up and running. But even though no violence has been reported in the parks, and no tourists have been killed in the violence, tourists are still too scared to come to Kenya, officials say.

Tourism industry groups affected by unrest in KenyaSo things are looking bleak in Kenya, but the same types of things happen elsewhere in Africa whenever there is civil unrest, natural disasters or some other type of crisis. The international news sends back just these images, that might only be affecting small pockets of the country, and an industry is ruined for 2-3 years.

Challenges Beget Opportunities
So, as with every challenge, there lies an opportunity – many times with a technology component that will help counter the “bad news only” media. In this particular case, we know that some parts of Kenya are in rough shape, and that no one should go there who doesn’t have to. However, we also know that much of the country is safe and not likely to see any type of disturbance.

If I were to create a strategy for how Kenya can better show the world how things are in the tourism industry, I would start by creating an accessible flow of hyper-local information. You see, tourists need to know that the travel to their destination will be uneventful, and that their safari will still be fun and without fear of any domestic disturbances.

The low barriers to getting a website online make that a particularly attractive option, and likely a key component of any strategy. I would also consider employing a couple contributors on the ground in Kenya that would be able to go from location to location and report truthfully on why, or why not, to go there. They could upload videos, pictures and interviews of people on vacation.

While we’re at it, we might as well provide a map-based view of the country that showcases the most recent news, good and bad areas to go, reviews and submissions by tourists about each hotel, game park and tour operator. Basically, it has a lot of the components you would find on TripAdvisor, IgoUgo, TravBuddy or any other macro-travel guide, except that this would have up-to-date hyper-local information that only people on the ground there could provide.

A Video
An interview with Dr. Achieng Managing Director of the Kenya Tourism Board. It provides another perspective on the issue, especially how it affects everyday Kenyans. Alos, he covers the challenge it faces and opportunity provided by the crisis:


24 Comments

  1. Erik: You’re analysis is spot on! What prospective is needed is balance and perspective in presenting the reality of events on the ground. Currently, you have a situation where CNN runs a clip of a group of young protesters in Kisumu standing around a burning tire demanding justice. Within minutes these image ricochet around the world. Shortly after, wholesale cancellations for safaris to beach vacations in Mombasa and safaris to Samburu Game reserve begin pouring into Nairobi.
    Absent timely information to provide context and perspective, the tourist has little else upon which to base their travel plans. The impact is immediate and far reaching. Already layoffs of good wage paying jobs are underway in several hotels and popular tourist attractions.
    We’re truly live in a new paradigm. Unfortunately for third world countries they depend on first world source markets for tourists but have yet to develop the smarts to navigate modern digital terrain the ability of high velocity news transmission to drive and shape events. ~Peace

  2. I’ll read this later when I’ve more time Hash. Fabby article – needs more time!

  3. I will try to be objective in my arguements.

    As a tourist, I want to visit places where my peace of mind is guaranteed. If you knew that there was a major hurricane is going to make landfall in Miami, would you still go on vacation to Orlando. And while I’m at it, take my family with me. No.

    The same applies to Kenya. There have been a lot of disruptions in Kenya. If you are going to spend $10,000 for a 1 week vacation, the last think you want is some fool messing up with your peace of mind.

    Talking to people who have just returned from Kenya, they complain that their plans were disrupted and they did not achieve what they wanted to do.

    That said, it is imperative that we achieve political stability. It’s more than just perception when it comes to tourism.

    I’m surprised that Charles thinks otherwise.

  4. charles kasinga

    January 16, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Ssembonge: Tourism is a flickle business. The decision to travel is totally discretionary. What I’m suggesting is that balance and perspective enables people to make better informed decisions. By leveraging digital technology the Kenya Tourism authorities can turn it not into an opponent but a friend. By leveraging technology to level the communications playing field to quickly aid in restoring visitor confidence once the currect political impasse is resolved.

  5. Charles, Do you remember the video footage of a rat infested Taco Bell in New York?

    Guess what?

    That one incident affected the 7,000 Taco Bell eateries in the US.

    Silly you would think.

    Not so if you are a behavioural expert. Apparently human behaviour is predictable and can be explained.

    Like you said. We need to sort out our mess first, then other things can follow suit.

    Here is the rat video in case you missed it;

  6. charles kasinga

    January 16, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    My point exactly. Youtube enabled this clip to be viewed by millions within days of its upload. Yum Brands – owners of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W had the tech savvy, rapid response team that unabled them to quickly deal with the – rat video – fall out. Third world countries like Kenya don’t have the same advantages but still have to do business in a digital media drive world.

  7. I commend what you are doing with this website and like the suggestion you made regarding the tourism industry’s response to international media. However, as long as those images are still out there, it will harm the industry even if it was countered. When people travel to Kenya (or anywhere in the world), they spend quite a bit of money. People want to be assured that they will be safe. Granted, they will be safe in Kenya but the term “unstable” does not help. Nor do the images of machete-armed youths in Kibera.

    People have compared how come Kenya never banned its citizens from travelling to the US, say after 9/11 or London after the bombing. While it created insecurity, they were portrayed as being isolated. Being in the third world and in Africa, the media does not grant us such good fortune. Remember the bombing in Mombasa in 2002… people acted like Kenya had been invaded by Al Qaeda.

    If we countered it with positive images, what would a tourist from abroad believe? They would believe CNN. This is not meant to beat down on your suggestion. It is a great one. But if the likes of CNN cannot show what we want, we cannot expect people out there to know better.

    Also, it seems that ODM will keep calling for peaceful demonstrations which are banned, and which end up with people clashing with the police. These images again, made it to the top of BBC, CNN today. During the last few days, Kenya was barely mentioned until the clashes.

    It is unfortunate the bad representation that Kenya is getting. Things are not perfect but they make it seem like we are in a complete civil war (and they refuse to cover a real war taken place above us in Somalia.. but that is another story for another day!)

  8. Erik,

    The timing is quite interesting for this post of yours. I have heard from a few industry insiders in Kenya that they are teaming up to do some sort of PR blitz to counteract images from Kenya which do not have a direct impact on their particular operations.

    Also, CITI did an in depth analysis on Kenya following much of the chaos, quite counter intuitively they have indicated that their business in Kenya will not only stay put in Kenya, but that it might also be ramped up a bit because of what they see as a temporary hiccup.

    Again, you are doing a great job, Erik.

  9. Hi Hash,

    We could not agree more. Please see some of the mobile reports on the subject.

    Regards, Ben

    Kenya still tourist destination despite crisis
    http://www.africanews.com/site/list_messages/14493

    Tourism sites safe despite political unrest
    http://www.africanews.com/site/list_messages/14621

    Kenya: Locals rescuing declining tourism
    http://www.africanews.com/site/list_messages/14645

    Don’t stay away, Kenya still enjoyable
    http://www.africanews.com/site/list_messages/14776

  10. Erik:

    Thrilled you will be joining us at the Berkman event next month! Look forward to talking Kenya and technology.

    Josh

  11. @ Benin Mwangi

    Hi. Do you know where one can get the CITI analysis? Thank!!

    Also, in news that might help the situation, ODM has just announced that Friday will be the last day of mass action.. Click link below
    http://www.kenyaimagine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1051&Itemid=141

  12. I agree with a previous post. Tourism is fickle. Kenya (and Africa) should start focusing on investment. And not in the government but real deal entrepreneurship type investment in those twice, thrice degreed twenty somethings sitting at home jobless. You’ve got people who studied long and had only to come out with no prospects. I talk about this a bit more on my post on my blog:

    http://afropolitans.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/01/boy-builds-wind.html

  13. charles kasinga

    January 20, 2008 at 6:12 am

    ICT, tourism connection
    It is a tough time for Kenya’s tourism industry. The post-election violence has damaged Kenya’s reputation. Travel advisories have been issued. Holiday companies have extended the suspension of holidays. Cont….

    http://eastandard.net/index.php?mnu=details&id=1143980653&catid=331

  14. Totally agree with you that there are a lot of perfectly safe places in Kenya such as inside the majority of the game parks and even inside the majority of beach hotels on the tourist route but the getting to and from those places by road, you just cannot guarantee these people’s safety sadly.

    Currently we have no guarantees from one moment to the next when and where trouble will kick off surely. Someone might decide your driver is not from a tribe they want in the area at this time, and also with all the police so tied up with the main protesting and suchlike, there is most definitely a feeling of lawlessness creeping into this country in a big way.

    Who bothers arresting people at the moment for a dodgy car on the road or talking on the phone whilst driving, or smoking in public? All those small breaches are currently getting bigger which is shown perfectly well in the fact that who exactly has been locked up for any of this violence and unnecessary killing to date?

    I think if I was a non-Kenyan, this would certainly not be my destination of choice right now and sadly, until we can find some form of compromise in all this, I can’t see the majority of tourists coming back in a hurry.

    I think the majority of us are going to suffer in whatever business we are in, in some form or another, and it will take some time to reboot the tourists back to Kenya, but I’m not sure that we can even think of starting to do this without the political solution being sorted out first.

  15. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but this Pauline lady is deluded.

    Imagine an American telling their friends, neighbours and colleagues that they are planning to go for a vacation to Kenya. What do you think their response would be?

    IT or the web is only a part of the decision making process. Lets not forget that there are other alternative tourist destinations in Africa. And it’s not like they are paying cheap to go to Kenya.

    I would be wary about throwing good money into tourism until the political situation is broought under control.

    This would be akin to playing a guiter to a goat. Or is it painting a goat?

  16. charles kasinga

    January 21, 2008 at 7:21 am

    The current political crisis will be resolved. The protagonists have more to lose than to gain by continuing to perpetuate it. Kenyans will navigate through this phase of their evolution as democratic nation. Tourism will remain a key of component of the economy.

  17. Trackback: As the United States paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior with a holiday, citizens of the African Nation of Kenya are confronted with the same issues of poverty and racism the Civil Rights leader crusaded against during the 1960s— This morning I spoke by phone with Bin, who is in Nairobi. We chatted about what was happening in Kenya.

  18. I understand that the cancellations are due to the fact that British holiday makers are unable to find travel insurance when the UK Foreign Office is puts out a travel warning.

    So no shortage of good PR will make travellers visit.

    What you need is a device which gives a nasty electric shock to politicians contemplating economy destabilising strategies.

  19. charles kasinga

    January 22, 2008 at 8:23 am

    The UK Foreign Office has issued a revised travel advisory. The new advisory removes the blanket ban on ‘non-essential travel’ to Kenya and replaces it with an advice against travel to specific parts of the country.

    “This means that Britons coming to Kenya can now get travel insurance,” the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) spokesperson, Jake Grieves-Cook said. The revised advisory now cautions against travel to Western and Nyanza provinces, Narok, Kibera, Mathare, Eastleigh and Mombasa.

    Mr Grieves-Cook said KTF had also issued an advisory warning tourists against travelling to some parts of the country.

  20. Ebookers and Expedia-UK are still not selling tickets to Nairobi.

    I’d like to bring you to the attention of iJET Intelligent Risk Systems (ijet.com) that works with most corporations to determine risks in foreign countries. Their reports have a major impact of where corporations take their business (think FDI and trade). Most global corporations, including airlines rely on their service.

    Right now they have a ‘critical and warning alert’ for Kenya. Nairobi is rated a 4 out of 5 for insecurity.

    My missus’ employer, also a global corporation with several offices and facilities in Kenya, sent out an email to all its worldwide work force asking them not to travel to Kenya. They instituted emergency response measures for their employees in Kenya.

    What surprises me is that To Kenya has nothing on their homepage re-assuring tourists of their security in Kenya.

    Charles, are you scared of litigation or has this slipped through the cracks?

  21. charles kasinga

    January 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    These developments are unique for the Kenya tourism and travel industry. One of the reasons Erik started this excellent blog was to generate ideas and suggestions how the country might navigate this new terrain. Any suggestions our tech savvy friends around who support Kenya during this difficult phase are not only welcome but highly appreciated.

  22. The two rivals in Kenya’s political crisis met on Thursday for the first time since a disputed election and pledged to seek an end to weeks of unrest. President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands and smiled after the closed-door talks, brokered by former U.N. boss Kofi Annan.

    “I think we began to take some fair steps towards a peaceful solution,” Annan told reporters gathered outside Kibaki’s central Nairobi office, where the discussions took place.

    The two leaders had not talked since the December 27 polls despite intense pressure from Western powers and millions of anxious Kenyans horrified by their country’s slide into chaos.

    After the meeting Odinga said talks would continue until a solution was found. He added “I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis,”.

    Kibaki vowed to personally lead the east African country to unity and peace. “I appeal to all Kenyans to remain calm and to shun violence as we endeavor to find solutions,” he said. “I am confident that together, our experience, unity and determination will make it possible for us to overcome the challenges.”

    When the pair shook hands, hundreds of onlookers cheered.

  23. Kenya’s current situation is a PR disaster. If Kenya does not want it affect it for years to come it needs to start rebuilding its brand ASAP. No one is going to come in the midst of the unrest. It just does not make sense for a vacation… which are by definition intended to provides break from stress and anxiety. Public Relations is the art of manipulation media to tell the story you want. Using technology to get another story out there about Kenya and too quickly re-establish trust with the traveling public. That they can come to Kenya and go home with a joyful beautiful tale to tell… that is the key. You have to mitigate the damage. You can’t undo it, you can’t change the damage the will continue as long as unrest and instability are a reality (no matter how localized). Using all media to do that including the internet is the smartest thing that Kenya could do today.

  24. Even in my worst nightmare I could not have imagined that Kenyans would turn on each other.

    We are now looking at airlines withdrawing from Nairobi while just last year many airlines were increasing their flights to Kenya. From what I’ve heard, airline staff and airplanes are not spending the night in Nairobi.

    Tourism as we know it is dead until such a time that we get a new constitution acceptable to most Kenyans.

    Investors will be looking past handshakes and MoU’s before they can consider coming back. We need to use this ‘opportunity’ to bring meaning and lasting change to our country.

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