Dubai: Kenya and Tanzania courted investors and travellers at the recent Arabian Travel Market highlighting the growth of Middle Eastern visitors to their countries.
Kenya saw a growth in arrivals from this region of 6.4 per cent last year over the previous year. The UAE represented the largest share, about 13,000.
"This may seem like a small number, but is very positive. We still performed, despite political crises we had, very well with the Middle Eastern market," said Cecily Mbarire, Kenya's Assistant Minister of Tourism.
Kenya has suffered political instability coupled with outbreaks of violence since, including a massacre after the disputed elections in 2007, pitching supporters of Raila Odinga, now Prime Minister, and incumbent President Mwai Kibaki against each other.
But things have smoothed over, bar the occasional row. Political reforms undertaken via a referendum on a draft law changing the constitution to guarantee the next elections in 2012 will turn out peaceful, reassured Mbarire.
"We learnt a bitter lesson in 2008, that we took peace for granted. We made a serious commitment never to go back to turmoil. The President and Prime Minister now work closely together," she said.
In the meantime the importance of the Middle East as a tourist source market has led to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) setting up a representative office in Dubai. Together with Kenya Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia offer direct flights.
Emirates Holidays recently honoured KTB's achievements with an award for being number one in building awareness of their country in the MENA and Indian Ocean region.
"We're trying to sell the beach, safaris and sports. We have many golf courses in Kenya, as well as eco-tourism potential, visitors may not be aware of," the assistant minister said.
African wildlife reserves are also known for excellent regulated hunting. Diocless Emmanuel, marketing officer at Tanzania National Parks, confirmed tourist numbers and interest from the region are also up in his country.
"Usually most Arab visitors come for hunting, but we want to change that to them exploring the beaches, mountain climbing and experience the culture of our country."
The neighbouring countries both lay claim to a unique offering. Kenya is banking on a value for money proposal, selling beach and safari packages and the close proximity of some of its parks to Nairobi.
Tanzania meanwhile is home to Mount Kilimanjaro and less developed beaches and parks with very few lodges, offering an unspoilt wilderness experience.
Kenya has been suffering from bouts of drought, a reminder of the urgent need for conservation. Mbarire explained the country is mitigating climate change effects via campaigns, like getting farmers and schools involved in tree planting to increase the country's depleted forest cover from 3 per cent back to 10 per cent by 2015.
"We're also asking the countries responsible for most of the climate change to do something about it and contribute to the cost," she added.
Park conservation is also taken seriously, transferring wildlife where needed from overcrowded parks to more virgin ones. Private investors have to receive an environmental clearance certificate from the government before they can build lodges.