Watamu and Diani beaches have been ranked among the best three out of 25 in Africa.
The latest industry ranking by US-based Cable News Network’s (CNN) Travel Magazine places Watamu and Diani second and third after Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh beach.
The ranking comes as a boost at a time when Kenya’s tourism industry is facing insecurity-related challenges that have seen tourist numbers stagnate in the first-half 2012. “Watamu’s smooth white beach, which forms part of the Malindi Marine Reserve Park, a marine-protected area, the snorkeling and diving around the offshore coral formations is said to be the best in East Africa,” said CNN in the report.
Watamu is also an important breeding ground for green and hawksbill turtles. Diani, the idyllic 20-kilometre stretch of palm-fringed beach, is kept pristine and clear of seaweed by the coral reef just offshore and has become one of Kenya’s most popular destinations.
Nungwi beach in Zanzibar was ranked fourth, while Chitimba beach in Malawi came in position five. Anse Soleil Mahe and Anse Soleil d’Agent, both in the Seychelles, were ranked sixth and seventh respectively.
Tourist arrivals in the first half of this year were almost flat compared to the same period last year in part due to the eurozone crisis and travel advisories. Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) figures show that arrivals increased marginally to 564,835 in the six months to June, from 549,083 over a corresponding period last year.
Last year’s earnings rose by 32.8 per cent to Sh97.9 billion, making it the second highest foreign exchange earner after tea at Sh109 billion. Horticulture was third at Sh91.6 billion.
Kenya’s annual tourist arrivals stand at about 1.4 million compared to South Africa’s eight million and Egypt’s 10 million, making the country a relatively small beneficiary of the industry.
Mr Muriithi Ndegwa, the KTB managing director, attributed the recognition of Kenya’s beaches to sustained effort by stakeholders to ensure that they are clean, safe, and well managed.
“This is good news to us coming hot on the heels of our being voted Africa’s leading Tourism Board 2012 during a hotly contested event in the UK by travel agents across the globe,” said Mr Ndegwa.