Opening up Africa skies key to growing tourism, says CS Balala

By Macharia Kamau | Published Tue, May 16th 2017 at 09:31, Updated May 16th 2017 at 09:36 GMT +3

Kenya can grow its tourism numbers if neglected source markets across Africa are revived and connected to direct flights. Globally, countries largely rely on their neighbours to increase the number of tourists. But just as with trade and services, tourists from Africa to Kenya remain wanting.

According to the Economic Survey 2017, though Africa accounted for about a quarter of the people visiting Kenya last year, tourists from the continent were dismal.

Only Ugandan and Tanzanian visitors stood out, with 53,000 Ugandans and 33,000 Tanzanians visiting Kenya last year.

Kenya received 311,000 tourists from rest of Africa - attracting a total of 1.2 million tourists last year. This is unlike other regions, such as the European Union (EU) where neighbouring States are tourists source markets’ according to an EU report on tourism. Indeed, the top five tourist source markets for major tourist destinations in EU are usually countries from the region. Tourism Cabinet Secretary (CS) Najib Balala noted that strict visa rules by African countries towards their neighbours has slowed down intra-African tourism. Another factor is limited connectivity between Kenya and the rest of Africa through direct flights.

There are numerous instances where Africans have to travel to Europe and make a connecting flight to another African country. The CS, while acknowledging the importance of traditional source markets of North America and Western Europe admitted that Africa could be Kenya’s  critical source of tourists.

“Africa could be Kenya’s biggest source of tourists but for that to happen, we need to have a serious open sky policy. We need to encourage low-cost carriers from the region to Mombasa. The biggest market we have is Africa but it remains largely untapped,” said Balala.

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He observed that the Government is working hard to increase the number of visitors from Africa. “We need an open sky policy and to relax visa rules. If we are going to grow the numbers, we need to be accessible.”

He said regional economies and the middle class have been growing, adding that most West African countries are opening up their countries to the rest of Africa, a step that Kenya should follow. Among the countries that have managed to tap into regional tourism in Africa include Morocco and South Africa. According to Balala, the two countries opened up their skie which has not affected their national carriers negatively.

Morocco has been able to increase tourists to 11 million annually while visitors to South Africa have grown to 10 million.

A March 2017 World Economic Forum report notes that air transport infrastructure and agreements with other countries are among the areas that Kenya needed to improve on so as to grow the number of airlines flying into the country.

Balala said the Cabinet will relax rules for transit passengers to encourage them get a short term visas and tour Nairobi.