The trailblazing woman defining tourism sector

Dr Betty Raider in an exclusive interview with Woman Magazine reporter.

Call them explorers, adventurers, campaigners, reporters, thinkers, workers or leaders – women in tourism, then and now, have set strong precedents that has shaped today’s travel and tourism sector. Tourism, one of the largest and fastest growing industries has presented a wide range of income generation opportunities for women in formal and informal sectors.

Despite there are also known challenges facing women in tourism, second edition of Global Report on Women in Tourism by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) show that the majority of the tourism workforce worldwide is female. This only shows that the tourism policies are increasingly addressing gender-equality.

Research has also shown more and more women are challenging gender stereotypes in the sector. In Tanzania, eight women in the Mulala village of Arusha have united to form the Agape Women’s Group, an enterprise established with the aim of creating tourism activities that benefit local populations, alleviate poverty and offer a tourism experience to complement conventional safaris. In Morocco women have been issued tour guide licenses for the first time. An airline in the UK has doubled the number of female pilots they employ. Uganda’s Hotel Owner’s Association is now led by its first female CEO, Jean Byamugisha. These are but a few examples which can be found around the world.

The Chief Executive Officer of Kenya’s Tourism Board, Dr Betty Radier adds up to this growing trend, defining tourism sector in Kenya and East Africa as whole. She is known as the trailblazing woman making tourism sector run like a cheetah.

During the three-day EA’s leading travel trade show, Magical Kenya Travel Expo that took place in Nairobi last week and attracted 50 countries globally, Woman Magazine had a chat with the tourism guru, Dr Radier on her efforts to boost tourism in East Africa.

Excerpts from the interview:

The number of visitors to Kenya this year has increased by half a million from 1.5 million in 2017. Can you highlight two aspects that you focused on to boost these numbers?

One of the things that we did is we prioritised our key source markets and with that we also prioritised the products that we are selling to those markets through digital media. So we embraced digital as a media that allows us to be able to have a wider footprint, globally. We also developed and focused on domestic tourism. Now, domestic tourism within that period grew by 54 per cent and the benefits that domestic tourism allows you, is that the ability to fill in your short break season but also doesn’t suffer from travel advisory, security threats/myths and fluctuations. Because you are talking about the citizen who has a clear understanding of where there might be security challenges. So what we found out is that yes our key source markets are important but then over and above that we began to look at our domestic tourism. Domestic tourism globally, actually, has the ability to increase the revenue that comes to our destination if properly managed. Your international source will typically plan one holiday to Africa so you want to optimize that they are here and the revenue that they are going to spend when they are here but what you have with your domestic audience is that you can have repeated experiences in your destination; you just have to identify the experiences for them that they will be able to partake.

How has East African Community (EAC) revolutionised the game for tourism in EA, bearing in mind that most member countries have similar tourism products?

The single entry East Africa Tourist visa that we got into partnership with Rwanda and Uganda has significantly increased the traffic between the three countries and they have benefitted. We must understand that we are not in competition, because despite the fact that Kenya has safaris, the experience itself is very different from the one you might experience in Uganda or Tanzania. The terrain is different, the way it is served is different, the experience that you’ll have is different and also the way people in Uganda for instance will present a product is very different than the one presented in Rwanda or Kenya. So to say that you’ve experienced a safari in Uganda then I don’t see the need to experience one in Tanzania is to say that you have shopped in Thailand and therefore you never need to shop again. East Africa is extremely diverse and extremely unique.

How can we fast forward inter-regional tourism to mark East Africa on the map of leading tourist destination in Africa?

What we have currently is the Northern Corridor Integration Project which is an on-going program that involves partner states of EAC to promote integration by fast tracking projects for the benefit of citizens and the development of the region. Trade usually is the key driver but as a by-product or a benefit to that trade you are able to then have tourism growth. Because if people visit a destination that isn’t their home, they are likely to do more than just visit that destination for a meeting – they look at what other opportunities are there at the destination and what more they can do there. So that’s quite interesting from that perspective. Looking at Europe and Asia, we learn that it is not about competition now but about cooperation – it is about utilising the strengths of each country and coming together in bettering the whole region.

East Africa is seen as a safari destination and has been marketed internationally and by the media as so. But there’s more to this. Agree or disagree and why?

I completely agree that East Africa has more to offer than just safaris. For example, for a long time Kenya was marketed as a beach and safari destination. One of the strategies that we have is that we are devolved nation with 47 counties and what that has done, it has brought to light opportunities of diversity in experiences especially in tourism, trade, health and in a lot of different sectors that counties as homogenous bodies are able to provide.

So what we have started to do is to realise that we must market the diversity that is available in Kenya. Because people already know about Kenya’s beach and safari offering but there is an opportunity to talk about your adventure and perhaps simple things like the great humpback migration that happens at the coast around the same time as great wildebeest migration. There are a lot of things out there that people still don’t know about.

On that note, how are you able to diversify your source of visitors?

We first of all did a piece of research to understand globally who are our visitors and we have done a pen portrait of who these visitors are, and it is detailed enough to understand what their [visitors] motivations are. And that’s how we are able to source diversified visitors.

What efforts and activities are you carrying out to position East Africa as a leading travel destination in the world?

Being able to tap into bodies such as UNWTO or WTTC – and to get people there to understand that Africa as a continent is opening up to a number of things. They are opening up for trade, for partnership, for investment and of course they are opening up for tourism.

And therefore it helps people to begin to look closer before picking a destination for holiday or so. If you also just take a snapshot of global meetings happening in and around Africa, example Morocco has been officially chosen as the host of the 24th Session of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), to be held in 2021. So it is things like this that allow people to begin to experience the continent of Africa as a viable continent for consideration of visitation, of travel and of experiences.

How do you maintain a balance between boosting tourism numbers and at the same time preserving/conserving East Africa??s or Kenya’s heritage and charm?

It’s about policies and structures. There is government owned parks, and then there is community owned parks – community being the county. So like the Mara which is the world renowned park is actually owned by a county and run by a community.

If you go to Mara conservancy for instance, you’ll find that there is a symbiotic relationship between the investors and the community because they need each other. And it is symbiotic in the sense that the investors are sensitive and respect the community because that is part of the attraction. And they live the way they live – they didn’t change themselves because they see an investment of a huge property within the conservancy – no – they continued to live the way they live.

And yes they do benefit from the integration into the tourism sector – because the locals have a better understanding of that. It’s not that you wiped out a community and built something entirely different for an experience. The attraction around Kenya as a destination is exactly that – we try to maintain the fabric of that location – because the investors see that as the original attraction of what takes tourists there at the first place.