Study: Most tourists visiting Kenya are Africans

A tour van with tourists follows buffalos at the Nairobi National Park last month. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The profile of tourists coming to Kenya has changed over the years, with Africans becoming key visitors to the country while there is a surge in the number of younger travellers to Kenya.

Meanwhile, there has been a significant growth in the number of business travellers to Kenya, a destination that has over the years been popular for its beach and bush safaris.

A new survey shows Africa has emerged as a strong tourist source market for Kenya, surging ahead of Europe, over the last four years.

The survey by the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) found that nearly half of the visitors to Kenya (42 per cent) were from other African countries compared to 35 per cent who were from Europe. This is in contrast to a similar survey conducted four years ago, where about half — 50.2 per cent – were from Europe.

“Majority of the respondents were from Africa (42 per cent) followed closely by those from Europe at 35 per cent while Oceania and Asia had the least representation, at two per cent and one per cent respectively,” said the Tourists Exit Survey by TRI.

“Compared to the exit survey findings of 2019, Europe dominated consumption of Kenya’s tourism product at 50.2 per cent, while it appears to be taking second place after Africa in this survey.”

Conferencing and business tourism have also risen and now account for a third of the tourists coming to Kenya. This comes amidst calls to diversify the country’s tourism product offering that has in the past been largely centred on holidaymakers.

“Holiday, Leisure and Recreation accounted for the majority at 39.4 per cent, followed by business travel purposes at 27.2 per cent, while those Visiting Friends and Family (VFF) was third at 20.6 per cent of respondents,” said the report.

“The current findings indicate a significant shift from the 2019 survey findings where the majority (58.3 per cent) had travelled for holiday and leisure while business travel comprised a paltry nine per cent.”

In doing the survey, TRI spoke to 3,900 tourists leaving the country at different exit points, including the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Moi International Airport Mombasa, as well as Namanga, Busia and Malaba border posts.

“Africa has remained one of the stable tourist source markets for Kenya. With 49 million bed nights available, Kenya has to capitalise on Africa's continued significance as a stable source market for Kenyan tourism,” said John Ololtuaa, Tourism PS, who spoke during the launch of the report this week.

The survey further shows Africans were coming to Kenya for shopping (36 per cent), which shows how increasingly key Kenya is becoming as an import hub in the region. Africans are also visiting Kenya for such activities as wildlife viewing (14 per cent) and conferencing (10 per cent).

There has also been a major growth in conference tourism, which according to the new survey, nearly a third of the tourists to Kenya are coming for business purposes. In the earlier 2019 survey, only nine per cent of the tourists were coming to Kenya for conferencing or business purposes.

Ololtuaa challenged industry players to keep up with the times and offer products demanded in the market.

“We have observed a significant growing trend in younger travellers, suggesting a shift in target demographics. We must therefore modify our marketing messages and communication styles to align with the values and communication preferences of the new demographic,” he said.

In Kenya, tourism is a significant sector, generating 4.2 per cent of the nation’s gross fixed capital formation (or new investments), according to TRI data, 5.5 per cent of formal employment and accounts for 10.4 per cent of the nation’s GDP.

TRI notes that the sector plays a crucial role in social and economic stability, having a spillover effect on different industries, including trade, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

In 2022, international tourist arrivals stood at 1.48 million, a 70.45 per cent increase, compared to 2021 when the country received 870,465 tourists. The high growth rate was on account of the continued recovery from Covid-19 that grounded the industry.

Sector earnings grew by 83 per cent, to Sh268.09 billion from Sh146.51 billion in 2021. The industry is one of the top foreign exchange earners for Kenya.

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