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Trends that will drive tourism, travel in 2024

 Sunset in the desert. (Peter Muiruri/Standard)

The removal of visa requirements for visitors, the rise of wellness and experiential travel and the digital transformation of tourism processes will be among the key factors driving up travel trends in 2024.

According to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), the sector has displayed encouraging signs of recovery, with the recent elections providing a stable and conducive environment for the industry and setting a positive tone for the new year.

Numbers on the rise

Between January to October 2023, Kenya saw 1.6 million visitors, representing a 34 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2022, which recorded 1.2 million visitors, a significant step toward full recovery post covid.

The 2023 figures represent a 93 per cent recovery level compared to 2019 and against the global average of 84 per cent.

Building on traditional, emerging markets

In 2024, the country hopes to build on resurgent travel from established markets such as the United States and Europe. Additionally, there is considerable growth from African markets with Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Sudan forming a remarkable percentage of the top visitor-contributing countries for Kenya.

For instance, Uganda has a 10 per cent market share and ranks second overall, with Tanzania following closely with an eight per cent market share indicating the growth potential within intra-Africa travel.

The emerging markets of India and China display signs of progress with 44,586 tourists from China arriving in ten months leading to October 2023, up from the previous year’s 17,205 visitors.

India recorded 80,320 arrivals, a 14.6 per cent increase from 70,087 visitors in 2022. The surge is linked to significant developments such as the resumption of the China Southern Airlines flights in February 2023 and direct flights between Mumbai and Nairobi via Indigo Air.

Visa-free travel

The new visa-free policy announced by President William Ruto is expected to be a major catalyst driving tourism in 2024.

Mike Macharia, the chief executive officer at Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, says this move will give Kenya a robust market share in coming years. “The new visa policy, if actualised, will be a major shift that will give Kenya the magic numbers, over five million visitors in the next three years,” he says.

The President’s Jamhuri Day announcement followed an earlier pronouncement that removed visa requirements for other African countries.

The initiative, according to KTB, was a key topic of discussion during the recent East Africa Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE) and Magical Kenya Travel Expo (MKTE) and “represents a critical step towards enhancing regional integration and cooperation”.

“With a population of 1.4 billion people, the African continent has the potential to provide the much-needed numbers to sustain our tourism sector. By opening doors for fellow Africans, Kenya aims to foster a culture of understanding and appreciation, laying the foundation for economic prosperity.”

Technology-backed travel

Digital connectivity will be a significant trend shaping the tourism landscape. With the explosive growth of social media and online booking platforms, tourists are enjoying unprecedented access to travel information and resources.  

Industry players say technology is becoming the “silent orchestrator” of seamless travel experiences.  Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality have become integral to the way people plan and embark on our journeys.

“The modern traveller seeks efficiency, personalisation, and connectivity. Technology is the conduit through which these expectations are met. AI-driven itinerary suggestions and virtual tours that bring destinations to life, will be at the forefront in embracing tech innovations,” says Joseph Kithitu, managing director at Hemingways Travel.

Sustainable travel

Environmental sustainability concerns have emerged as key factors that will inform global travel in 2024. KTB says travellers are more conscious about their environmental impact, seeking out destinations that champion sustainable practices and responsible tourism.

“Kenya has taken significant strides in this area, with numerous eco-friendly resorts and conservation-focused tour operators. The country’s commitment to sustainability aligns with modern tourism trends and is expected to be a major tourism driver in 2024,” says acting KTB chief executive officer John Chirchir.

Clamour for wellness travel

The global travel industry has witnessed a surge in demand for wellness retreats, spa vacations, and destinations that prioritise physical and mental well-being including digital detox.

“Travel is no longer just about reaching a destination; it is about the journey to self-discovery and rejuvenation. Wellness-focused experiences aim to provide travellers with a getaway and a holistic rejuvenation of mind, body, and spirit. Health and wellness will be integral parts of the travel experience in 2024,” says Kithitu.

Experiential travel to rise

The millennial demographic is seeking out authentic, immersive experiences rather than simply visiting traditional beach and bush attractions. They want to immerse themselves in new cultures, learn about history firsthand, and participate in local customs and traditions.

“This shift towards experiential travel is an exciting development for Kenya as it offers an interesting angle to not only attract tourists but also ensure the preservation and promotion of indigenous cultures and traditions,” says Chirchir.

Similarly, Kenya’s culinary experience, as promoted by Lonely Planet, will continue to draw visitors, especially to our urban areas such as the capital city, Nairobi.

“Culinary tourism has always been a central element of travel and is expected to reach new heights in 2024. Travelers are increasingly seeking authentic and diverse food experiences, turning their journeys into culinary adventures,” says Kithitu.

Meetings, conferences and expos

Business and MICE visitors ranked third in terms of purpose of entry in 2023, accounting for 24.8 per cent of international arrivals from January to October 2023. KTB hopes to collaborate with convention centres, private hotels and other players to pitch for major MICE business.

“Our people are renowned for their warmth and hospitality - when business travellers experience this firsthand, they are sure to return,” says KTB in a media statement.

In 2024, KTB hopes to engage with travel trade partners including airlines, tour guides and hotel owners in delivering an authentic Kenyan experience during such conferences.

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