An empirical study of marketing responses of tour operators to changes in tourism industry in Kenya.
Tourism has become one of the most important sectors of Kenya's economy. Tourism is currently making the largest contribution to Kenya's Gross National Product (GNP). Tourism business environment in Kenya has been changing dramatically due to the increase in competition among emerging destinations and the effects of global terrorism. With globalization, changes have taken place in political, technological, socio-cultural and economic environments resulting into previously protected 'national interest' areas being opened up to worldwide pressures, increasing dramatically communication facilities and capacities and creating new needs all over the world. With this context, this research was carried out in order to study the marketing responses of tour operators to changes in tourism industry in Kenya. The study had three objectives. The first objective was to establish the importance of changes in tourism industry environment to the operations of tour operators in Kenya. The second objective was to assess the influence tourism environmental factors have on tour operators' marketing mix. The third objective sought to identify the strategies adopted by tour operators to address the challenges of the tourism business environment. The research design for this study was a descriptive one. The population of interest consisted of all tour operators based in Nairobi who are members of Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO). A sample of 70 was drawn from KATO's Membership list using stratified random sampling procedure. Data was collected using a semi-structured questionnaire. Some 46 out of the target sample of 70 responded, representing a response rate of 65.7%. Findings of the study have revealed that various environmental factors are quite important and affect the operations of tour operators in different ways. Some are absolutely fundamental, for instance, competition from other global and regional tourist destinations and advances in information communication technology. Other factors like poor infrastructure and need for e-business capability to market products locally and internationally also rank quite highly. Issues of climate change, local communities' demands, taxation regimes and multiple licensing requirement, changes in consumer attitudes ranked fairly important. All the marketing mix variables studied received grand mean scores of above 3.5. The results of the study indicate that distribution channels, product/service and promotion seem to receive great attention by tour operators. It is clear from the findings that product quality is absolutely fundamental and has to be guaranteed. Pricing has received the lowest consideration, though its importance cannot be underestimated given that it scored above average. The findings also show that attaining an excellent public image and maintaining competitive position are most important factors in addressing the challenges posed by dynamic environment. Attaining lead in market share seems to have been ranked the least, especially with companies in category D to 'Associate' . The study identified various differences and similarities among the six categories of tour operators studied. The differences are reflected in the focus, goals and operations pursued by the companies in each category. Generally, those in category D to 'Associate' are more focused on growth and expansion of company operations, while those in categories C to A are more geared towards maintaining the right public image, attaining market leadership and maintaining profitability. In terms of similarities, the study established that almost all the tour operators are conscious of the need to enhance competitiveness of Kenya as a tourist destination in view of competition posed by the emerging destinations, and the need for government to improve infrastructure and make it easier for operators to do business in the country. The study recommends that strategic marketing planning and marketing research needs to be enhanced especially in tour operators within Categories D to 'Associate' since these categories seemed to lag behind in this major marketing facet. The study also recommends a review by the Kenyan Government in regard to sustainable tourism in the country in view of emerging competing destinations. Specifically, the government should review its approach towards infrastructure development, taxation regimes and licensing. Continued neglect could lead to loss of tourism clientele to other upcoming destinations like Tanzania; Mozambique and Botswana. In terms of future research, the study recommends an integrated study covering other players in the tourism industry like the hoteliers, parks and museums that would reveal more insights on how the environmental factors have impacted the tourism industry.