Kenya remains a favourite tourist destination, loved globally for its sandy beaches, wildlife, rich culture and favourable weather conditions.
Foreigners who have not traditionally visited Kenya in large numbers are now doing so, especially in the past one year.
Even domestic tourist numbers are rising as the expansion of the middle-class continues even though the economic and financial conditions of the poorer sections of the society may have deteriorated with inflation.
Last year, the country saw international arrivals at 877,602, a 16.7 per cent increase from the 752,073 recorded in 2015.
The country also recorded 429,749 cross border entrances putting the total combined arrivals in 2016 at 1.3 million, a 10 per cent growth from the previous year.
The 2016 statistics released by Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) indicate a shift in the performance from key source markets with some countries doubling the number of tourists coming into the country while others, for instance, United Arab Emirates (UAE) declining sharply from 40,875 accounting — or 5.4 per cent of tourists who came into the country — to 18,428 (2.1 per cent) last year.
Americans top list
The US topped the list of countries that had the most tourists coming into the country, ousting the UK, which had been the number one source market for Kenya for the longest time.
“The UK has shown slight decline, while all the other markets have shown positive growth. This may be attributed to the Brexit that has led to a weaker pound, making other destinations more expensive hence reducing the number of tourists from the United Kingdom,” says the KTB report on Tourism.
The US accounted to 11.2 per cent (97,883) while the UK accounted for 11 per cent (96,404) of tourist arrivals last year.
In 2015, the UK was top at 98,523 (13.1 per cent) while the US was at 84,759 (11.3 per cent). In 2011, 203,290 tourists from the US paid Kenya a visit compared to 119,615.
India took third position accounting for 7.3 per cent (64,116) of the tourists, a sharp rise from 49,756 (5.4 per cent) visitors recorded in 2015.
Uganda took the fourth position accounting for 5.8 per cent (51,023) of tourists up from 3.9 per cent (29,038) who visited Kenya in 2015.
China followed closely with 47,860 (5.5 per cent) up from 29,790 (4 per cent) in 2015.
“The growing positive relations between Kenya and China and India may be contributing to the growth of tourists from this region. India and China have fully recovered and surpassed the 2011 performance,” said the report.
Germany, Italy and South Africa accounted to five per cent (43,502), 35,953 (4.1 per cent) and 35,926 (4.1 per cent) of tourists who visited country last year, respectively. France recorded 20,435 while Canada emerged the 10th market source at 19,700 (2.3 per cent).
A total of 782,013 international arrivals were recorded at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi while 92,872 came via the Moi International Airport, Mombasa. Tourist arrivals by cruise ship were 2,717 down from 3,302 recorded in 2015.
August and July, December and January remained the best periods for the tourism sector in Kenya, recording the highest number of visitors.
Holiday main purpose of visit
The main purpose of travel to Kenya remained holiday accounting to 75 per cent of the arrivals with business and conferences contributing to 13 per cent and the rest (study, on transit) of the reasons taking up 12 per cent.
“Holiday is the major reason of travel into Kenya, taking a share of 73 per cent of the total arrivals compared to 70 per cent in 2015. Both business and conference contributed 14 per cent per cent of the arrivals compared to 16 per cent in 2015, with VFR, transit and study with eight per cent, three per cent and one per cent in 2016 as was the case in 2015,” said the KTB in a statement.
KTB chief executive Betty Raddier expressed optimism the sector’s performance would boost earnings.
“We project that tourism sector will make Sh94 billion for the Kenyan economy as we expect it to stay resilient despite the looming general elections,” she said.
“We have hired a global exhibitor (On Show Solutions) for the October fair to take marketing efforts of Kenya as a destination to the next level.
We are banking on the firm’s global experience and expertise to take Kenya to where it used to be. It is in our plan to learn about changing consumer demands and diversify to suit the market demands.”
Africa contributed to 29 per cent of total tourism arrivals with Uganda topping the list, followed by South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Uganda recorded the highest growth in the number of tourists at 75 per cent with Ethiopia experiencing a 39.8 per cent (15,328) increase followed by Nigeria at 27.7 per cent. South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania recorded a 17.8 per cent, 3.7 per cent and 2.3 per cent growth respectively.
“Uganda has shown the highest growth in arrivals into Kenya from the region. Easier facilitation and the joint marketing initiatives may have led to this growth. Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia have fully recovered and surpassed the 2011 tourism performance,” read the report in part.
“Africa’s growth may be attributed to increased arrivals from most of our markets of focus, especially South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria.”
Europe has always remained the top source market for Kenya but has been declining as it is the case with The Middle East over the recent years while Asia has seen a positive growth attributable to arrivals from China and India.
“The Middle East has seen decline due to the instability in the region in general and the recession in the UAE in particular, due to the depressed oil prices,” added the report.
The tourism sector is still on a recovery journey and the KTB says since the post-election crisis India, China, Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia markets have fully recovered.
The tourism agency expressed confidence that the numbers would remain on an upward trajectory. The agency grew domestic travel by 14.6 per cent in 2016 beating the target set the previous year.
The State agency had projected that sector would grow by three per cent after it embarked on aggressive marketing campaigns to woo local tourists.
Data from Kenya National Bureau of statistics indicate that Kenyans took up 3.6 million bed nights in 2016 compared to 3.1 million in 2015.
“Domestic tourism is as important as international tourism and we want Kenyans to embrace and promote it.
“We have products that are tailored to the local tourists and KTB is constantly working with the players in the market to ensure that the local needs are met. We are looking forward to a better performance this year,” said Ms Raddier.
According to the agency, domestic tourism has potential that needs to be harnessed and there is a need to push for local tourism to sustain the operations of the hospitality industry — should international arrivals dwindle as elections approach.
Despite efforts made by the State agency, domestic tourists cite the high rates charged by hotels as the greatest impediment when planning for local travel.
A report Cytonn Investments released in October called on local hotel operators to come up with attractive incentives that compel locals to patronise their facilities.
An outlook report by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) shows that forward bookings in major tourist hotels are in line with seasonal trends and prospects for the sector remain high in 2017.
According to the CBK study, the economy is expected to remain resilient this year supported by macroeconomic stability, public investment in infrastructure, lower energy prices and the recovery of tourism sector.
The hospitality players expect the sector’s performance to remain on an upward trajectory.
“We have not seen any cancellation so far, in fact, some of our members are almost fully booked for the July and August one of the busiest seasons.
“We are confident that everything will be fine and hopeful that Kenyans will take elections as a one day event after which life continues,” said Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers chairman Mike Macharia.