Why tourism sector was a star performer in 2023

A fleet of tour vans spotted along the Nairobi-Nanyuki highway heading for a safari.

Photo credit: File | Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

From being the worst-hit sector at the height of the pandemic, the tourism sector seems to have turned a corner to become the star performer in 2023, figures from the Economic Survey 2024 released by the national statistician show.

The sector—which comprises activities in accommodation and food services—recorded a growth of 33.6 percent to a valuation of Sh527.2 billion due to increased visitor arrivals for both leisure and business.

The sector grew by 33.3 percent last year, the fastest growth among the 21 economic sectors tracked by the national statistician when computing the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This growth—which was better than the pre-pandemic performance for the first time—was also a boon to the labour market in the accommodation and hotels which recorded an additional 21,100 formal jobs in 2023, the annual findings by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows. In 2022, the sector produced services valued at Sh374.1 billion.

“Globally, there was an increase in international tourist arrivals by 34 percent…representing a resilient post Covid-19 recovery,” said KNBS.

“In Kenya, the tourism sector registered improved performance in 2023 attributed to growth in the aviation sector and hosting of prominent conferences in the country,” added the KNBS.

International arrivals grew by 35.4 percent to 2,086,800 last year, surpassing the 2019 numbers for the first time. There was a marked increase in visits to national parks, museums and historical sites, pointing to the recovery of the tourism sector.

The country also witnessed accelerated visitor arrivals during the Africa Climate Summit Conference held in September, together with other major conferences.

Improved performance was also reflected in increased wage employment in the sector which grew by 27.8 percent, the highest among all the sectors, to 97,000. In 2022, the sector had 75,900 wage employees or those who get a regular paycheck. These were still lower than the pre-pandemic wage employment of 81,200.

The sector was one of the most badly hit by travel restrictions that cut the international travel numbers to just 60,000 in January 2021 before rising to 91,000 in 2022.

Many hotels shut down and retrenched thousands of workers as the country implemented the containment measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 first recorded in Kenya in March 2020.

Most of the hotels shut down briefly then re-opened, but others such as Intercontinental Hotel and Silver Springs shut down completely.

This year, the iconic Hilton Hotel decided to shut its doors completely, after years of poor performance were aggravated by the pandemic.

At coastal Kenya, popular for tourists, several hotels have since shut down forever leaving behind a trail of unemployment that has only started to abate as tourist arrivals improve.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.