Dateline Kitale: Sunday morning 27th September 2020. A group of women, their families and Trans Nzoia County Officials led by the County Executive Commissioner (CEC) for Tourism Mr. Aggrey Chemonges gather outside Huduma Centre. They board the county bus and embark on a short drive, about 10 kilometres, on a bad road to the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) Centre in Matisi.
It is World Tourism Day and this group comprises the Trans Nzoia chapter of Kenya Association of Women in Tourism (KAWT). They have chosen to celebrate the day both as a family picnic and a thinking day. They want to explore the options they have in developing a tourism hub in the county. They have chosen an excellent year, when the theme focuses on rural areas- ‘Tourism and Rural Development’.
The venue is also very appropriate. The ADC Heritage Home is one of over 1000 such homes, built in the early 20th Century as home to the mostly British settler community that lived here, nurturing the bread basket in the North Rift. It was this settler community that introduced large scale farming of maize and pasture, developed seed production to get the very best breeds and paved the way for mechanized farming. Upon their departure at independence, the government and some private investors took over the land. Many of the houses are still standing but unoccupied while others are used as training centres especially by the ADC.
With tourists’ accommodation interest moving from big five star branded hotels to homestays, Mr Chemonges believes this is a great opportunity for Trans Nzoia. “We can rehabilitate these Heritage Homes and develop a circuit around them through our unique attractions such – the Saiwa National Park which hosts the endangered Sitatunga Antelope and Mt. Elgon National Park which hosts the only cave Elephants in Africa”. Mount Elgon has the widest volcanic base in the world, the majority of which makes up this park.
ADC is suitably qualified to play the role of host through the Heritage Homes. ADC Regional Director for Kitale, Dr. Cherogony Maurice recalls how a similar venture was started almost accidentally at the ADC Galana Ranch in the Tana River region.
Tired of complaining and demanding compensation from the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) because of crops and livestock destroyed by wildlife, Dr Cherogony and his team ventured into the unknown – ecotourism. They got into partnerships with players in the sector with each partner bringing in their best offerings. Several luxurious camps, sports such as bird shooting, camping and a vast variety of African artifacts later, the venture has become a run-away success.
It is this kind of venture that Dr Cherogony hopes that Trans Nzoia can spur with its unique offering with the Heritage Homes taking centre stage.
Tourism and Rural Development
Mr Chemonges avers that tourism can spur rural development and support the community. Then he suggests ways in which it will it create jobs- bands and dancers both modern and traditional can entertain guests, there will be sale of curios and other memorabilia and of course the location and interests represented in the over 1000 of the ancient houses dotted all over the county will spur tourism in its own way.
UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), states that tourism is a leading provider of employment and opportunities in the countless rural communities around the world. In many rural places, tourism is one of the few feasible economic sectors because beyond uniting people, it helps them to hold onto their unique cultural heritage and traditions, while acting as an auxiliary in safeguarding habitat and endangered species. The sector has unfortunately been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
To make it meaningful for local people, they should be engaged in mountain tourism and empowered to conserve the resources upon which it depends. UNWTO foresees that domestic tourism will return before international tourism. Managed well, this could benefit rural communities enormously.
According to 2019 data, tourism generated 7 per cent of global trade, employed one in every ten people globally and provided livelihoods to millions of people in developed and developing countries.
In Africa, the sector represented 10 per cent of all exports in 2019. For women, rural communities, indigenous peoples and many other historically marginalized populations, tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and generating income. It has enabled service delivery in remote locations, supported economic growth of rural areas, provided access to training and jobs, and often transformed the value that communities and societies ascribe to their cultural and natural heritage.
“It is no longer possible for travel and tourism providers, or destinations, to continue in a “business as usual” model or mind-set. Innovation and change coupled with agility and ability to respond are critical for success today and into the future.” Hon. Najib Balala, EGH, Cabinet Secretary in the 2018/22 Kenya Tourism agenda. County engagements is a strategy the national government plans to use to grow the base for tourism. It is this strategy, along with domestic tourism that Trans Nzoia County wants to leverage on. In the national strategy, African Safari is described as the unique selling point of the Kenyan Tourism Experience, and the ultimate dream experience visitors to Kenya would like to have.
Sarah Musundi KAWT Vice Chair says: “Creating a mini-safari trail in Trans Nzoia county will be an opportunity for transformation of tourism leading to building more robust businesses through innovation, digitalization and partnerships. We should now embark on building a portal that presents to the Kenya and the world, what the county has to offer”.
KAWT member, Rosemary Odima notes that tourism infrastructure supports tourism product and marketing components. It helps ease access to products and makes tourism experiences affordable. With better roads, Kenyans will be able to travel in their country, grow the GDP and provide exposure that is currently lacking.
Tired of complaining and demanding compensation from the KWS because of crops and livestock destroyed by wildlife, Dr Cherogony led the ADC team to venture into the unknown – ecotourism.