Domestic tourists drive earnings to Sh146bn


Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala during the release of the tourism sector performance 2021 report and projections for 2022, at the Nairobi Serena Hotel yesterday. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

The tourism sector rebounded last year supported by locals, as the industry pulled out of a painful two-year period since it was hit by the pandemic.

The tourism sector performance report 2021 shows that the industry earnings jumped 65 percent to Sh146.51 billion last year up from Sh88.56 billion in 2020.

Tourist arrivals through airports and border points also increased 53.3 percent to 870,465 from 567,848 over the period.

But the sector, which is among Kenya's top foreign exchange earners, is yet to recover to the pre-Covid levels when it made Sh163.6 billion and registered 2.04 million tourists in 2019.

The Tourism ministry attributes last year’s performance to high demand from domestic tourists that took over hotels, coastal beaches and parks.

Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala has also tied the improved performance to international events including Magical Kenya Open, World Racing Championship, Safari Rally, branding of Kenya Airways that increased hotel bookings in towns like Naivasha and Nakuru, helping keep the industry afloat.

“These events picked up in terms of profile and made Kenya still relevant in people’s minds contributing to performance,” he said.

Tourism was among the worst-hit sectors by the pandemic following the closure of borders and cancellation of flights, as economies globally moved to control the pandemic.

It was heavily dependent on the forward bookings from international travellers pre-pandemic period, with the clientele taking more than half of the accommodation services.

This placed most of the hotels, camps and tour companies at mercy of local tourists, especially the growing middle-class with disposable incomes.

The data show in the nine months to September, bed occupancy increased to 4.14 million compared to 2.58 million in the same period, representing a 60.7 percent jump.

Domestic landings increased by 55 percent to 43,949 compared to 19.9 percent growth to 15,537 for the international landings.

Airports such as Kisumu, Malindi and Manda airport in Lamu that receive majorly local flight passengers have redounded to almost 2019 level.

“Domestic bed nights grew by 101.3 per cent between 2020 and 2021 while international bed nights grew by 0.05 per cent. These bed nights recovery trends are an indication that the hospitality sector in Kenya has largely been supported by domestic travel in 2021,” the report stated.

About 1.183 million jobs and Sh152.43 billion in value were lost in 2020, but have since come back because of the domestic market.

Mr Balala has projected that the sector will register Sh172.89 billion in receipts this year and tourists arrivals will cross the one million mark.

Over the year, the top five international arrivals by country were USA (136,981), Uganda (80,067), Tanzania (74,051), the UK (53,264), and India (42,159).

A third of the tourists visited for holidays (34.4 per cent), with 29.6 per cent saying they came to visit family and friends.

About 26.4 per cent visited for business meetings, conferences and exhibitions (MICE), 5.36 per cent were on transit and 2.19 per cent for education.

‘’Uganda and Tanzania, most of them are coming for business and only a few are saying they are coming for holiday. Basically, all African countries are vising for businesses and not holidays,” he added.