Obama Kenya visit fails to lift tourism

US President Barack Obama addresses Kenyans during his visit in July. PHOTO | FILE
US President Barack Obama addresses Kenyans during his visit in July. PHOTO | FILE 

Foreign visitor arrivals dropped 24.1 per cent in August, defying expectations of increased travel following the visit of US President Barack Obama in July and a United Nations conference in Mombasa.

Official data shows the number of international visitors stood at 70,878 in August, down from 93,427 the same month a year earlier, and 78,243 in July.

President Obama’s visit was expected to boost Kenya’s profile and limit the damage caused by the travel advisories issued by Western nations following Al-Shabaab militant attacks that scared visitors away.

The Treasury hoped Kenya would earn dividend from the visit, the first ever by a sitting US president to Kenya, and said holiday inquiries had risen ahead of Obama’s arrival on July 24.

“Though still down, it is much better compared to numbers witnessed six months,” said Mohamed Hersi, the CEO of Heritage Hotels and chair of Kenya Coast Tourist Association (KCTA).


The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows that international arrivals through Moi International Airport in Mombasa fell to 7,546 in August from 10,962 in the same month last year, but rose from 5,728 in July.

The month of August is the peak period for the annual wildebeest migration at the Mara River.

President Obama was in Nairobi to attend an entrepreneurship conference.

“All these obviously will boost tourism and give more support to the exchange rate and we see the (weakening) trend that has happened over the last few months reversing because of the positive developments with the visit,” Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said days before Mr Obama’s visit.

KNBS shows foreign visitor numbers fell 18.3 per cent to 496,519 in January to August, a signal that the sector is far from recovery.

Kenya has hinged recovery of the sector on a Sh5.2 billion marketing plan. The promo will see a marketing offensive in Western capitals in an effort to woo tourists back to the beaches at the Coast, and the game parks.

Following last year’s terrorist attacks, Britain, the US, France and Australia issued travel warnings to their citizens which saw a decline in tourist numbers and led to the closure of more than 40 hotels at the Coast due to low bed occupancy.

Other hotels have seen management and staff take pay cuts of between 20 to 30 per cent to avoid layoffs.

Besides hotels, tourists support auxiliary sectors like handicraft makers, taxi businesses, fishermen and farmers have also been affected.

The sector was once the highest foreign exchange earner but has been declining over the years.

Official data shows that tourism earned the country Sh87.1 billion last year compared to Sh94 billion in 2013.