Culture is defined as a reflection or representation of the customs, beliefs, the way of life and social organization of particular groups comprised of indigenous communities.
There have been valid concerns, government’s continued pursuit of foreign investment as a development strategy, has resulted in high level ownership of tourism resources restricted to non-indigenous entrepreneurs.
Although the sector earns the exchequer millions of shillings from foreign exchange annually, local communities’ involvement in tourism development and the accruing benefits have remained minimal.
Critics attribute the imbalance to a lack of focus on clear cut policies, which ought to spur investment in to uplift the prospects of indigenous tourism enterprises.
But all may not be lost as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the World Bank, has been making overtures to encourage indigenous communities to participate in tourism development.
In Kenya, past successive governments put in place mechanisms, which thrust various traditional communities and their cultural practices into the front seat of the tourism.
Consequently, culture is widely touted as the cornerstone and backbone of the tourism sector alongside sandy beaches on coastal strips and the thriving boon in natural resources.
Indeed, the diversity inherent in local communities provides a crucial lifeline for the sector – annually contributing a significant percentage of Kenya’s gross domestic income (GDI).
Admittedly, scores of tourists who flock different parts of the country throughout the year are – like moths to a light, drawn to the varied fascinating cultural roots of the country’s more than 40 indigenous groups.
Each of these communities is endowed with traditions and values, which besides being passed on in the past from one generation to the next, are peculiar to specific tribal groupings.
But arguably most distinct cultural attractions known to spur tourism tend to trickle down to the ways of life of numerous local communities.
These include the Maasai, the Swahili, Pokomo, Giriama, Rendile, Samburu, Turkana, Nandi, Kamba, Luhya, Miji Kenda, Kipsigis and Digo among other indigenous tribes.
The cultural practices popular amidst these tribal groups have perennially appealed to especially visiting tourists, keen to engage and learn from these communities’ vast cultural resources.
In the past several decades, unregulated practices in the sector resulted in local communities, some which are entirely dependent on their cultural resources, being negatively affected.
A case in point is the Maasai community; despite comprising backbone of a large chunk of the local industry by virtue of residing next to prime tourist destinations. But basic educational facilities, health-care services and employment opportunities remain limited.
It would be prudent to work towards ensuring change in attitudes among indigenous Kenyan communities, many who still view tourism industry as the foreigners’ domain in terms of ownership of resources.
Active involvement, emphasis on development of small and medium tourism enterprises (SMTEs) would spur empowerment of indigenous communities and ensure they reap benefits from their cultural resources.
The government ought to review its tourism policy and nurture an environment conducive to the development of indigenous eco-tourism enterprises.
It is indisputable the culture oriented boom for the tourism sector is well deserved and lucrative to key players in the industry.