Visitor arrivals into Kenya from East Africa has grown substantially in the past three years, official data shows, partly signalling the benefits of an open visa scheme for the region.
Kenya last year recorded a combined arrival of 95,845 visitors from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, up from 80,841 in 2016.
In 2015, some 58,032 visitors arrived from these countries.
“Uganda topped the list of Kenya’s top source markets in Africa, growing by 20.6 per cent to 61,542 arrivals,” Kenya’s Tourism ministry said in its sector performance report for 2017.
Arrivals from Tanzania also grew by an impressive 21.8 per cent in last year to 21,110 compared to 2016. Visitors from Rwanda increased to 12,193 in 2017 from 11,658 the previous year.
Uganda saw its share in Kenya tourism arrivals nearly double in the past three years.
Data by the Kenya’s Tourism ministry showed that Uganda was Kenya’s third largest source market for tourism with an overall share of 6.4 per cent last year compared to 3.9 per cent in 2015 and 5.8 per cent in 2016.
East Africa has implemented multi-entry single tourist visa since February 2014. This visa enables visitors travelling in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to travel across all the three regions using a single permit that can be obtained in any of these countries.
The move is a way of encouraging integration of citizens and cross-border trade.
East Africa contribution
The contribution of visitor arrivals from East Africa helped grow Kenya’s overall tourism arrivals to 1.47 million last year, up from 1.34 million in 2016 although the numbers remained well below a peak of 1.83 million in 2011.
The increase saw the country’s revenue from tourism jump 20 per cent last year even as the sector continued to recover from a series of terrorist attacks on the country a few years ago that had scared away foreign visitors.
Revenue from tourism, one of Kenya’s main hard currency earners alongside tea and horticulture, totalled Sh120 billion for 2017, Tourism secretary Najib Balala said last week.
“Kenya grew stronger in 2017 as a destination brand following positive visibility... This was achieved despite a busy electioneering season that threatened to slow down tourism activities,” Mr Balala said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government wants to bring in three million visitors a year, according to a manifesto published when he was first elected in early 2013.
In his inauguration speech for his second term on November 28, President Kenyatta said Africans wishing to visit Kenya would be eligible to receive a visa on arrival adding that citizens from the East African Community will only need a national identification card to travel, work, do business, own property, farm and even marry and settle in Kenya.
Kenya anticipates that the new measures will enhance trade and security as well as foster cohesion in the continent.
“I will work with you, leaders of the East African Community, to bring a renewed energy and optimism to our union. Together, we can deliver the peace and prosperity for which our citizens are crying out; divided, we will struggle to realise the full potential of our people,” President Kenyatta said during his inauguration.
Presently Seychelles does not demand a visa for any African country, while Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Benin have all adopted this no-visa policy over the past two years.
The African Union in 2016 also launched a continental passport as part of a strategy to encourage open borders.
Further, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community recently also reached a key pact making travel within the six-member regional block, comprising Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Chad, visa-free and integration of central Africa a reality.