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Tourist numbers edge up after record 2020 slump

By Macharia Kamau | July 16th 2021

Ukrainian tourists disembark from a chartered flight at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa in April. Travel restrictions among countries have stifled tourist numbers. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The tourism industry is on the mend after the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic that saw it hit historical lows.

The industry lost Sh110 billion last year owing to global travel restrictions, according to the Tourism Ministry, raking in a paltry Sh37 billion against a projected Sh147.5 billion.

While there has been a degree of recovery over the first half of this year, the numbers are still a fraction of what they were before the pandemic.

The country received 305,635 international arrivals in the six months to June this year, according to data by the Tourism Research Institute. 

About a third of the arrivals (94,241) were mostly Kenyans visiting their friends and family.

Business and conference tourists stood at 92,828, while holidaymakers were 92,629.

“We are encouraged by the numbers, although we are not there yet because this is only a fifth of the two million visitors we received in 2019. But we understand this is because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued, which affected the travel trends this year,” said Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on the new numbers.

The top five tourist source markets over the six months were the US (49,178), Uganda (31,418), Tanzania (31,291), China (18,069), and the United Kingdom (16,264).

The latter has traditionally been the top source market for the local industry but slid following a spat with Kenya that saw it place the country on its Covid-19 red list, restricting passenger travel between the two countries.

“At the same time, we can see the UK dropped to number five due to the effects of the unfair travel restrictions and putting Kenya in the red list despite our Covid-19 numbers giving a different scenario. But we are still engaging and we hope these travel restrictions will be lifted not only by the UK but across the world.”

Last year, the industry received a paltry 471,000 visitors, more than 68 per cent of them (321,000) arriving in January and February.

This was before the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country and containment measures to stem the spread of the deadly virus were put in place globally.

“From January to October 2020, the sector realised only Sh37 billion in direct international tourists’ receipts. This is against a projected Sh147.5 billion for the review period,” said the ministry.

“The sector hence lost over Sh110 billion of direct international tourists revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The industry has traditionally been the largest foreign exchange earner for the country, earning Sh163 billion in 2019, ahead of tea and horticulture.

The latter two appear to have defied Covid-19, mostly on account of their operations, including cargo flights, having only been affected minimally.

Tea earnings grew 15 per cent to Sh120 billion, while horticulture earnings grew to Sh148 billion last year from Sh143 billion in 2019.

A report by Deloitte noted that the industry still faces major challenges, with Covid-19 continuing to spring up more challenges that will slow down its recovery.

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