Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) has introduced strategies to reassure planners about the safety of the destination and attract more international association conferences in 2014.
The announcement follows a grenade attack in a tourist resort south of Diani, south of Mombasa last Thursday (1 January). In December, two British tourists escaped unharmed when a grenade thrown at their car failed to explode as they were driving between Diani and Mombasa. In September, gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, killing 67 civilians.
Kenyatta International Conference Centre's acting managing director, Fred Simiiya, insists Kenya is a 'safe' destination for business events. He told C&IT: "While our government implements increased security measures across the country to protect the citizens and visitors alike, we shall continue doing what we know best – marketing Kenya as the magical destination for business travellers and holidaymakers that it is.
"We (the KICC) have laid down strategies to attract more international association conferences through bidding at the same time, undertaking vigorous delegate boosting campaigns to ensure these conferences achieve maximum attendance.
"While doing this, we are continuously assuring these potential delegates and visitors that Kenya is a safe destination and that we shall not be deterred nor discouraged by recent incidents.
"During the month of September 2013 and October, a number of high profile international events were hosted in Kenya including the International Hotel investment Forum 2013 and the International Water Association (IWA), among others. These events successfully took place in the weeks following the Westgate incident. Most of the comments and speeches given by the many participants, presenters and guests during these events were in solidarity with Kenya as a people, as a country and as a destination."
However, UK event agencies remain cautious about taking corporate groups to Kenya. Lucy Collins, head of product development at Principal Global Events, said: "The Diani resort is more popular with the leisure market than the MICE industry.
"However, generally, event planners are much less likely to travel to Kenya following recent events, whether the perceived risk is real risk or not. The MICE market is more conservative than the leisure industry. Planners are a lot more risk averse nowadays and there is much more due diligence at a senior level. Planners are considering destinations that offer a similar experience to Kenya without the perception of risk, such as South Africa or a Zambia/Botswana combination, or looking at options closer to home, including Morocco, and high-end European destinations such as Capri and Monte Carlo."
Karen Rice, group operations director of Banks Sadler, said: "At our French office, we had a group that changed its plans from Nairobi at the proposal stage after the siege of the shopping mall in September.
"We organised a huge event at the beginning of 2012 in Kenya and, at that point, it looked as though business events in Kenya were on the rise. Generally, we are doing a lot more business in Africa. We are looking at Nigeria and Morocco more frequently, and have recently considered Ethiopia."
New developments in Kenya for 2014
Kenya is set to increase its business events capacity in 2014 with major developments, including the completion of a new terminal at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the first half of the year, which will have the capacity to receive an additional 2.5 million passengers annually. New international conventions centres are planned for Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu and international hotel brands are now opening in the country including Kempinski, Radisson Blu and Marriott.