Back in 2014, Kenya played host to 24 international association meetings, ranking 3rd in Africa for meetings and 68th in the world. In the same year, Rwanda ranked 13th in Africa and barely made it into the global listings at position 99.
While Rwanda had just a mere 1.6% share of the meetings held in Africa, Kenya had nearly five times more, with a market share of 7.8%. South Africa, the leading African conference destination, had a market share of 40.3%.
In 2015, Kenya slipped into 4th place on the Africa rankings and to position 71 globally, with her market share decreasing to 5.6%. While South Africa’s market share also decreased, Tanzania and Rwanda increased their market share to 4.7% and 3.8% respectively.
In the latest 2016 statistics, Kenya reclaimed her 3rd place ranking in Africa, a position she now shares with Rwanda and Egypt. Kenya and Rwanda are now the two biggest meeting destinations in East Africa. Of 362 association meetings held on the continent last year, Kenya and Rwanda each hosted 18, giving each country an Africa meetings market share of 5%.
While this is great news for Rwanda who pushed her market share up by 1.2%, this is not such good news for Kenya whose market share shrunk yet again, by 0.6%.
Over the last three years, the meetings market in Africa has also been on the rise. In 2014, the continent hosted a total of 308 international association meetings. In 2015 there were an additional 30 meetings held, growing the market by 9.4%. In 2016, an additional 24 meetings furthered the market size by another 7.1%. With an average annual market expansion rate of 8.3% in recent years, why is it then that Kenya’s market share has declined while Rwanda’s has grown? Is there perhaps something that Rwanda is doing right that Kenya could do better?
It is fair to say that each country has made remarkable strides to promote the attractiveness of its respective destination in recent years. Both have demonstrated economic resilience, posting growth rates above 5.4% between 2015 and 2017. Both countries have also invested heavily in road and airport infrastructure. Both have successfully attracted foreign hospitality investors and seen an expansion in hotel room capacity, with the entry of international brands such as Kempinski, Park Inn, Radisson Blu, Sheraton and Golden Tulip. Both countries have further participated at the largest trade show for the meetings industry, IMEX , effectively announcing to the rest of the world that they are indeed open for conference business. Both countries also rank well on visa access, and are both participants under the East African Tourism Visa scheme.
It seems however, that there are other key areas where Rwanda is outperforming Kenya.
Topping the list is the cohesive and strategic effort Rwanda has taken in packaging and promoting the country as a conference and meetings brand. The Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) was established back in 2014. This has helped the country secure large business events by furnishing planners with extensive knowledge of the economy and the destination and even in defining conference topic targets. Rwanda has firmly prioritised meetings and events as a key growth sector in its economic development and developed a national meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) strategy. When the RCB was launched, Rwanda set out to become a top 10 African meeting destination by 2016. From a ranking of 21 in 2013, Rwanda jumped to position 13 in 2014, position 7 in 2015 and into the top three in 2016. This is a very commendable achievement.
Kenya has demonstrated intentions to formalise and build her meetings industry through several initiatives. In 2015 and 2016, the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), the parastatal charged with bidding for international conferences, held a MICE expo bringing together several players within the industry. In late 2016, the current Minister appointed a task-force to report on the establishment of a national convention bureau. The task-force presented its report to the Ministry in early 2017 but Kenya is yet to establish a convention bureau, however it would seem this is actively in the works.
Speaking of mega-capacity meeting venues, Kenya has relied on the KICC which has served the country well since the 1970s, but is in dire need of refurbishment. Construction of a much needed additional facility is also planned at the Bomas of Kenya.
In line with it’s MICE strategy, Rwanda opened the Kigali Convention Centre in 2016, which boasts modern amenities that comply with international meeting planners’ expectations and requirements.
Over the last few years, Rwanda’s national carrier Rwanda Air has also grown significantly, increasing both its fleet and widening its destination reach. In contrast, Kenya’s national airline Kenya Airways, has in recent years been mired in performance and management difficulties losing its grip as the pride of Africa. To the country’s relief, new directorship and management is now on board and is set to steer the airline’s recovery back to its former glory.
While Kenya generally ranks ahead of Rwanda in majority of the indices used in determining global travel and tourism competitiveness, Rwanda far outperforms Kenya in the particular areas of business environment and safety and security which are fundamentally essential in promoting destination appeal, especially to the international business community.
It is worrying that if business and conference tourism is not fast-tracked into a top priority in the Kenyan economic agenda, we may wake up one day to find Rwanda is the leading meeting destination in East Africa.
Kenya urgently needs to develop a national strategy on conference tourism which ought to be integrated with our wider economic objectives. Conferences, if used effectively, are age-old vehicles for promoting trade. We need to define our ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ offering and engage industry players in collaborative partnerships. We need to identify our business target markets and how best to communicate with them. We need to outline what resources we require and acquire them. We need to continually monitor our performance. We need to be well aware of our shortcomings and act on them.
Kenya is one of the top business destination in Africa and it would be great to see Kenya become as popular a conference destination as it is for its magical beaches and safaris.
Meeting statistics are drawn from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) annual reports. It is important to mention that ICCA statistics only report on international rotating association meetings that meet a set ICCA criteria.
This excludes local and international governmental, non governmental and private sector meetings.
Economy growth statistics are drawn from a World Bank press release in April 2017.
Tourism competitiveness analyses are drawn from the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017.
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Angela is the business development director at Meet In Kenya.