Kenya’s tourism industry defied last year’s prolonged electioneering period to post record earnings.
The industry’s revenues grew 20 per cent in the year to December to Sh120 billion, up from Sh99.69 billion in 2016.
This was despite mass cancellations by potential visitors from key source markets seen in the second half of the year following the nullification of the August 8 presidential election by the Supreme Court that also ordered a repeat poll by the end of October.
Tourist numbers also grew by 10 per cent during the period under review, with 1.47 million people visiting the country compared to 1.34 million visitors in 2016.
The improved numbers, however, fell short of the Government’s expectations.
The Ministry of Tourism had projected a 17 per cent growth in the number of visitors to the country for holiday and conferencing in the course of last year.
While releasing the figures in his office in Nairobi yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said the growth, although short of the target, demonstrated that tourist source markets had confidence in Kenya as a destination.
"In previous years, the numbers had gone down due to insecurity but the Government has invested heavily in security, which has restored confidence in tourist source markets,” he said.
Tourism was once the biggest foreign exchange earner for Kenya but now sits third after tea, whose earnings last year stood at Sh129 billion and diaspora remittances, which stood at Sh171 billion for the 11 months to November last year.
While earnings reached a record high, arrivals are yet to achieve a full recovery when compared with the best-performing year of 2011, when more than 1.8 million people visited the country.
In subsequent years, the industry faced a setback following a series of terrorist attacks, resulting in a decline in visitor numbers as well as earnings.
Mr Balala said the ministry expected the industry to grow by 16 per cent this year, which would bring the number of visitors to about 1.67 million.
“This year (2018) is going to be the best year for the industry,” he said.
The United States was the number one tourist source market, having contributed 114,000 tourists followed by the UK (107,000) and Uganda (61,500).
It is expected that the direct flights to the US will increase the number of American tourists to Kenya as well as boost trade between the two countries.
Kenya Airways is scheduled to start flying to the US in October. The airline started selling tickets for the new route last month.
The move is expected to cut travel time between the two countries by about eight hours.
Currently, travellers have to transit through Europe or the Middle East; some have to endure lengthy layovers at the connecting airports.
Balala said KQ and the Kenya Tourism Board will in March market Kenya in the US ahead of the direct flights.