Shipping & Logistics

Coast airports take lead in spurring growth of tourism

A section of the coastal city of Mombasa
A section of the coastal city of Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Air connectivity was a major driver for growth in the number of tourists who visited Kenya last year with all the four Coast airports and airstrips witnessing increased traffic.

Kenya recorded 163.5 million visitors in 2019 up from 157.4 million in 2018, representing 3.9 percent growth with August recording the highest number of international visits with 213,591 tourists followed by July with 206,340.

May and April registered lowest arrivals with 139,538 and 146,258 passengers respectively.

The Moi International Airport (MIA) Diani Airstrip, Malindi and Manda Airstrips have greatly benefited from the increasing number of holidaymakers as shown by the Tourism Sector Performance Report 2019.

In the report, MIA registered the highest growth in number of tourists at 8.56 percent while Jomo Kenyatta International recorded a 6.07 percent increase.


Cumulatively, tourism industry recorded marginal growth with international arrivals last year increasing by 1.167 percent from about 2.02 million passengers in 2018 to 2.04 million last year.

More than 63.1 percent of total tourists who visited Kenya last year were holidaymakers while 13.5 percent came to Kenya to do business. Some 10.6 percent of total international tourists came to Kenya to visit their families and friends whereas 12.75 percent came to seek other services such as treatment, shopping and education.

The Coast region, the country’s tourism hub, had the biggest share of tourists, both internationally and domestic.

Data from the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) indicates that MIA handled 600,533 international passengers last year compared to 542,481 the previous year, while domestic travellers recorded an increase from 858,725 passengers to 950,620.

Mombasa, being the hub of international trade due to the port serving the hinterland, contributed the second largest number of those who visited Kenya last year.

MIA handles more than 18 airlines flying directly from and to Europe and offering connections to more than 20 cities in the region.

The airport projects to handle more passengers in 2020, banking on the ongoing infrastructural expansion in relation to pavements and airfields ground lighting (AGL) with adequate space for business growth.

Increasing number of direct flights last year also contributed to a sharp growth in the facility’s activity last year. Air France made its maiden flight in March 2019.

“Qatar Airways started direct flights from Doha to Mombasa in December 2018. This was expected to serve various markets, Doha being a major connection hub, while Ethiopian Airlines increased flights frequency to Mombasa from one to two daily in the year hence boosting further arrivals via MIA,” read the tourism report.

In November, Uganda Airlines launched its direct flight from Entebbe to Mombasa, contributing to increase of both holidaymakers and those who travel to do business.

Malindi Airport was the second in total number of passengers who visited the Coast with 151,419 passengers in 2019 while 148,408 passengers used the facility in 2018. The airport recorded 30,240 international tourists up from 29,644 in 2018.

About 125,760 domestic passengers used Diani National Airport last year, an increase from 115,620 in 2018 with those who used the facility on transit increasing from 57,841 in 2018 to 62,915 last year.

Manda Airstrip in Lamu also registered a significant growth last year with 107,925 passengers using the airstrip compared to 95,680 who used the same facility the previous year, while 13,715 passengers used the airstrip on transit last year compared to 12,152 in 2018.

Other entry points such as ports and border regions registered a decline by 12.69 per cent.

Use of technology has also been cited as one of the major drivers of tourism in 2019 with the latest World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report showing that in 2019, Kenya improved five positions to 56 up from 61 in 2018 globally, on attractiveness to investors.

“This has been pegged on among others, automation of systems that have made starting business in Kenya easy and a commitment by the government to continue adopting a robust regulatory framework and improve the business environment,” reads the report.