US not Kenya’s largest tourism market

Italian tourists arrive at the Mombasa's Moi International airport in Mombasa County on Monday,031st July,2017. [Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]

The past few years have seen Kenya’s tourism industry experience a steady resurgence with earnings and visitor numbers rising to a four-year high.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicates that earnings from the tourism sector improved by 17.8 per cent from Sh84.6 billion in 2015 to Sh99.7 billion in 2016, the highest figures recorded since 2012 when a series of terrorist attacks by the Al Shabaab militia led to a slump in the sector.

“Similarly, the number of international visitor arrivals rose by 13.5 per cent to 1.3 million in 2016 with the sector’s rebound partly due to the improvement in security and successful high profile conferences,” said the statistics office in the 2017 edition of the Economic Survey.

KNBS data further indicates that the number of visitor arrivals through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the Moi International Airport for 2016 stood at 873,800.

Last year, this figure grew by 10 per cent with more than 960,500 tourists recorded through the two main airports.

This growth was recorded despite the country going through a troubled election process that ground several other sectors such as manufacturing and retail for several months.

It was thus with much optimism that Kenya’s national carrier Kenya Airways earlier this year launched direct flights to New York with the maiden flight set for October.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary (CS) Najib Balala last week underscored the strategic importance of the new route during a briefing with tourism stakeholders and journalists in Nairobi.

“Kenya Airways is going to New York and next to Atlanta…lets partner to address that market. It has high potential and is our number one market,” he said.

A closer look at the numbers, however, indicates that the US is in fact not Kenya’s largest tourism source market as claimed by the tourism CS.

Kenyan residents actually occupied more than half (3.4 million) of the country’s six million hotel bed-nights indicating that domestic tourism is, in fact, the largest driver of growth in the sector.

Germany came second with 685,400 while the rest of Europe and the UK registered 344,400 and 211,600 hotel bed nights respectively. The US is ranked fifth at 254,300 hotel bed nights.

Not only is the US not Kenya’s leading source market as claimed by CS Balala, but the number of hotel bed occupancy attributed to US nationals has gone down 13 per cent over the past four years.