Kenya’s tourism sector earned Sh163 billion last year, up from Sh157 billion recorded in the previous year, helped by a surge in tourist arrivals from the Americas.
Total tourist arrivals in 2019 stood at 2.048 million, a marginal increase from 2.025 million recorded in 2018, subdued by geopolitical and economic headwinds in several source markets.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) led in the number of arrivals at 1.4 million, accounting for 70 per cent of visitors flying into the country, while Mombasa International Airport constituted 23 per cent.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said the government should prioritise the turnaround of Kenya Airways and streamline operations at the JKIA to boost the number of arrivals.
“JKIA remains our biggest port of entry and inefficiencies at the airport and at the Kenya Airports Authority, need to be addressed to attract more visitors into the country,” he said.
The United States remains the largest source market for international tourists at 245,437 arrivals in 2019. The 9 per cent increase in arrivals compared to 2018 was, however, modest considering the country’s national carrier Kenya Airways begun making direct flights between JKIA and New York in October 2018.
Uganda led in the number of tourists from the region, bringing in 223,010 tourists, up 5 per cent from a similar period in 2018 while arrivals from Tanzania recorded a 7.4 per cent drop to 193,740 from 204,082 recorded in 2018.
The fall in tourist arrivals from Tanzania is particularly worrying as it accounts for the third highest number of visitors to Kenya. Kenya and Tanzania have experienced several trade disputes arising from non-tariff barriers in recent years that have also spilled into the tourism sector.
Balala expressed regret that Kenya’s regional neighbours are not doing their fair share of marketing the East African Community (EAC) single tourism visa that was launched in 2014.
“Kenyan tour operators are marketing the region as a bloc because we have operators like Serena Hotels that are present in all countries,” said Balala. Unfortunately, our neighbours are not selling Kenya which is contrary to the spirit of regional integration,” he said.
Tourist arrivals from other countries, however, registered a marked decline attributed to a number of challenges in the source markets and the global economy.
Italy for example recorded a 16 per cent decline in the number of tourists marking 54,607 arrivals last year. Similarly, Nigeria and South Africa recorded a 7.4 per cent and 5 per cent drop respectively in the number of tourists.
“There is a concern about the drop in numbers from the African markets such as South Africa which had a spate of xenophobic riots last year and more work needs to be done in these markets,” Mr Balala said.
Domestic tourism recorded a 10 per cent growth in the number of bed-nights from 4.4 million in 2018 to 4.9 million last year.
Balala said the ministry had spent Sh4.6 billion in marketing the country through the various state departments between 2014 and 2018 and asked the National Treasury to increase the sector’s budgetary allocation.
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