Nairobi Star - John Cleave: We Need Another Bomas at the Coast

Skal International is a global network of clubs for tourism executives and managers. The meaning of the word Skal is cheers or bottoms-up and the wine and whisky flows at their monthly luncheon or dinner meetings.

Skal clubs are about the tourism spirit of hospitality and therefore much loved.

However their slogan, complete with a white dove, "Tourism Brings Peace", is sadly wrong.

If true the slogan would be indeed wonderful as world peace could be won globally by everyone taking a holiday. Alas, the order of the words needs to be reversed to arrive at the real situation, which is that "peace brings tourism". If only governments valued peace more than election results!

Another global tourism network, the World Tourism Organisation, has managed their message much better with the WTO Global Code of Tourism Ethics. Based on years of distilled wisdom as the world tourism watchdog, the WTO states that tourism represents an opportunity to learn about other cultures and promote better understanding amongst mankind. The WTO champions the preservation of local culture, handicrafts and resists attempts to degrade or commercialise them.

All countries have something of culture and local entertainment. In England, to take one example of a typical Kenya Coast inbound source market; you may visit a theatre in many of the large cities, something the British have excelled at since before Shakespeare. Castles, ca-thedrals, abbeys, forts and other places of historical and cultural interest abound. Military parades are commonplace.

Go further north to Bonny Scotland and the cold may drive you indoors but there is one sure way to bring out the crowds regardless of the weather and that is tribal dance and war tradition. It may be a long time since tribes made war on each other in Britain but the swirl of the kilt, the crash of drums and the wail of the bagpipes still brings intense excitement as does the highland dance over crossed swords.

Traditional dance enthrals people everywhere and no less than in Africa, where overseas visitors long since detached from their own tribal dances, are fascinated to watch living tradition. Although a rapidly modernising country, we market tourism with scenes of Maasai warriors leaping vertically in war dance. The scope and variety of Kenya's tribal dancing is impressive and a hugely important heritage guaranteed to make a lasting impression on the minds of our visitors.

So why has Bomas of Kenya, operated as a government business unit to showcase our dance and music heritage to tourists in Nairobi, become such a failure and why is tribal dance reserved for visiting heads of state?

Nairobi has, admittedly, become inconvenient due to traffic jams and pedestrian congestion and visitors therefore escape Nairobi after one night in a luxury hotel, without tribal dance, to be whisked away to the peace and serenity of our beautiful wildlife parks and conservations.

However, more aggressive marketing by Bomas of Kenya would surely pay dividends with such a popular attraction.

Whatever the reason there exists an important but unfulfilled opportunity for the Bomas of Kenya to recover its pride by building a new cultural centre at the Coast. The situation there is quite different from Nairobi as tourism is out of town, and beach hotel guests stay one or two weeks within reasonable driving distance to visit a well marketed high quality cultural centre.

The Coast destination is the natural home for Bomas, being a mass charter market, where pre-packaged excursions are sold daily and Bomas will be booked day and night for infotainment that tourists are hungry for. The world loves song and dance and showcasing our local Swahili and other national cultures will be a winning formula.

Many beach hotels currently provide mini tribal commercial dance shows and will be relieved to return to what they do best, modern dance in their own discos with live modern bands. All this will raise entertainment standards and the range of attractions of a beach holiday with more diversified entertainment readily available, with tourists encouraged to go outside their hotels and spread their money around.

The new Coast Bomas can be built with funds provided by yet another dysfunctional tourism parastatal, the Kenya Tourism Development Corporation, recognised as going astray in entering into commercial enterprises.

The KTDC must sell all its assets to make money available for worthwhile tourism investments. Let us see it wisely spent on building a new Coast branch of Bomas of Kenya and expanding our conference and training facilities.

Cleave is the acting chairman of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators.

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