Tourism numbers grew 7.8 per cent in the 10 months to October last year, defying expectations of poor performance due to political uncertainty during Kenya’s election season.
Data from the Kenya Tourism Board shows that 786,765 international visitors landed in Kenya between January and October 2017, in comparison to the 729,682 recorded during a similar period the previous year.
These figures were especially boosted by arrivals from the United States, the largest source market for Kenya, and China. The two countries recorded 16.3 per cent and 14.1 per cent growth respectively.
Among Kenya’s top five source markets India, which is ranked third, was the only one to record a decline. International arrivals from the Asian nation fell 3.7 per cent during the period.
The UK, the second-largest source of tourists to Kenya, recorded a growth of 7.5 per cent while Uganda, the fourth largest, posted a growth of 7.2 per cent.
The most dramatic increase in the number of international arrivals came from Spain and Tanzania, jumping 37.7 per cent and 24.9 per cent respectively.
However, Nigeria’s figure fell 8.9 per cent, which is disturbing given that tourism officials have been targeting the West African market in recent months.
Last year, the board partnered with UBA Bank and launched a MagicalKenya prepaid card as part of a marketing campaign and also to make it more convenient for West African tourists coming to Kenya and beyond.
The resiliency of the sector, relative to the rest of the economy, is partly attributable to the fact that the election season also coincided with the peak tourism period.
So although numbers dipped in August when Kenyans went to the polls, they were still higher than all the previous months with the exception of July 2017.
Tourism is one of Kenya’s key forex earners although it remains sensitive to political and security concerns.
In 2016, 1.3 million tourists came to Kenya, injecting Sh100 billion into the economy, an increase from the Sh85 billion they spent in 2015.
The country is yet to recover to the 2011 levels when tourism numbers peaked at 1.8 million.
Kenya has been trying to boost growth in the sector and to guard against volatility by diversifying its source markets and tourism products beyond the traditional sun and beach, and safari.
Growth in Kenya’s numbers is almost at par with the international figures. Data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) shows that global tourism numbers grew 7 per cent to 1.1 billion in the 10 months to October.
Global performance was driven by positive trends in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East where some countries noted double-digit growth.