For an election year, Kenya’s 20 per cent tourism growth in 2017 was exceptional.
Based on past trends, the prolonged electioneering period and political unrest would have been expected to negatively impact the sector.
For instance, for the 2007-2008 period that was marked by post-election violence, government statistics show that tourism was severely affected.
International tourist arrivals slumped from the highest peak of the decade, 1,817,000 in 2007, to 1,203,200 in 2008. Earnings dropped from Sh65.2 billion to a low of Sh52.7 billion as visitors kept away from the country.
In the 2002 general election, the sector was also hit hard, with earnings sliding 11 per cent from Sh24.3 billion the previous year to Sh21.7 billion.
The 2013 electoral season was no different, although the damage was not as extensive as had been witnessed in 2002 and 2007.
Tourism earnings fell slightly by 2.1 per cent, attributed to the fact the polls and its aftermath were relatively peaceful.
Against this background, it would not have unusual to expect that last year’s polls would again dent the sector’s performance.
The industry, however, shrugged off the prolonged electioneering period and political chaos and unrest to record earnings of about Sh120 billion.
This was a 20.3 per cent growth compared to the previous year. This is also the highest earnings recorded recorded by the sector this decade.
Tourism arrivals also grew from 1,342,900 in 2016 to 1,474,700.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala attributed the growth to the fact that Kenya grew stronger in 2017 as a destination brand, following positive visibility and endorsement the country received through global accolades such as World Travel awards’ declaration of Kenya as the world’s best Safari destination.
Still below 2011 highs
Notably, the number of tourist arrivals in 2017 was 23.6 per cent below 2011's, when the country registered the highest number of arrivals in decades.
Last year’s performance was remarkable for Kenya considering that only five countries out of its 30 main tourist markets worldwide achieved positive growth compared with the benchmark year 2011, as the data by the Tourism ministry shows.
These countries are Uganda 44.2 per cent, China 42.9 per cent, Ethiopia 23.4 per cent, South Africa 2.8 per cent and India 2.0 per cent.
Domestic tourism numbers also rose quite significantly, marking the decade’s second highest year-on-year growth after 2009 when the numbers rose 37.3 per cent from the previous year.
The growth last year is attributable to government's investment in promotion of domestic tourism through awareness campaigns sensitising Kenyans on attractive destinations and experiences in Kenya.
Last year, 4.05 million bed nights were taken up by Kenyans in 2017 compared to 3.5 million in 2016, denoting a 15.8 per cent growth.