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Kenya, (almost) absent from Madrid's International Tourism Fair Fitur 2013
The safari operators and companies lack official support from Kenyan tourism bodies

Stands kenianos en Fitur 2013. J. Yanes / Madrid, 01/02/2013.
Kenya is missing once again in the 2013 edition of Fitur, Spain's International Tourism Fair which opened on January 30 in the Ifema venue in Madrid.

Although the absence of official representation for the East African country has been recurrent in past editions of Madrid's fair, this lack of interest from Kenya's governing bodies in one of the three most important tourism conventions in the world is specially notorious when compared with the effort made this year by other less developed African destinations, like The Gambia or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As opposed to the flamboyance in the stands shown by other safari destinations, such as Botswana, South Africa or the eternal competitor, Tanzania, Kenyan operators who have chosen to be present in the fair confess that they feel frustrated, neglected and nearly cornered in a low traffic area of hall 6, the one devoted to Africa.

Lack of support

This lack of official support is precisely the complain raised by Jane Wathagana, Managing Director of Animal World Safaris, a Nairobi-based operator located in stand 6F17. Ms. Wathagana foresees that the Spanish market can bring good business, but regrets the "trouble of achieving it without a proper official representation". The company's catalogue includes safaris in Kenya from 4 to 9 days, in addition to combined Kenya-Tanzania trips with stays of 11 or 15 days.

The same stand houses representation for Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, the prime choice for accommodation near Lake Bogoria National Reserve, one of the country's most beautiful natural sceneries. The hotel's General Manager, Lydia Dentewo, highlights that the hotel is "the only of its class in Kenya with a natural thermal pool".

Arguably the most attractive look among Kenya's representation in Fitur 2013 is shown by Tabia Safaris, one of the two Spanish-ruled operators in the fair. The company led by Eugeni Camafort and Tina Caelles, which has become a classic reference in the East African bush, presents in stand 6F20 a cozy space with theme ornaments including the typical safari chairs displayed beneath a simulated hot air balloon, everything under the attentive look of a life-size giraffe model. Tabia, that has recently added a brand new Nairobi office to its main Arusha base, focuses its offering on private safaris which are complemented with field workshops on wildlife photography and animal behaviour. "Our workshops are managed by renowned experts, which contributes a worthy value to a regular safari", Mr. Camafort explains.

Masikio Safaris fulfills the representation of Spanish safari operators in Kenya. José Luis Vaquerizo, the Managing Director, displays his offer of taylor-made private safaris in stand 6F05. Even though the company also covers Tanzania and Zanzibar, Mr. Vaquerizo wishes to emphasize Kenya's value as a safari destination. "In Masai Mara you have 24 lion prides in a reduced area. Tanzania cannot provide such a thing", he says.

Diverse choices

Glory Safaris (stand 6E21), Safari Mania (stand 6F11) and Spurwing Safaris & Trekking (stand 6E09) round off the attendance of Nairobi-based safari operators. Jason Mburu, Tour Consultant for Glory, introduces his company's choices of trips to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, including treks to Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Safari Mania's Managing Director, Shelina Timon Allport, pinpoints her company's interest in seeking an expansion in the Spanish market. "Currently it represents around a 20 percent of our customer base", she adds. To this end, Safari Mania offers Spanish-speaking guides for their customized private safaris.

Concerning Spurwing, this operator hosts a small office in Spain from where its tour consultant, Samuel Ngunjiri, can travel to any city in the country to help his clients arrange their safaris. Ngunjiri also sports the only collection of Kenyan handicrafts on offer in the fair. His pieces, including ethnic jewelry and ornaments, can also be purchased over the internet in and

Besides the East Africa-only safari operators, Fitur also gathers a varied array of travel agencies and multi-destination operators covering Kenya. Remarkable among them is Kananga (stand 6F02), a Barcelona-based agency which is well known for its truck safaris. Kananga's Product Manager for East Africa, Hagar Zeligman, briefed us about the permanent camp recently opened by the company in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve. Kananga River Camp, located right by the Talek river, comes as an attractive option to stay at the Mara, "with the added punch of being within the reserve's limits", Ms. Zeligman notes.

Finally, the best sample of the official neglect suffered by Kenyan agents in Madrid's fair can be found in stand 6F19, which corresponds to Kenyatta International Conference Centre. Kenya's most important congress venue, and one of the most remarkable in the whole continent, sits precariously at a naked and humble stand devoid of any traffic. KICC's Conference Sales Executive Feisal J. Lasker admits that "the Spanish business travel market is still notably underrepresented in Kenya", though he trusts in a future expansion.

In general, operators present at the fair regret that Spain, ranking the 15th in the list of foreign visitors to Kenya, is clearly underperforming for Kenya's tourism industry, and that the current financial crisis has all but aggravated the situation. Still, all of them express their hopes that a steep growth is about to come. This optimistic view is reflected by Eugeni Camafort's words: "No crisis lasts forever, and the recovery will bring a reborn interest of the Spanish traveller in safaris".


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