Tourism rebounds to Sh352.5b surpassing pre-Covid numbers

Passengers disembarking from MS Ambience cruise ship after docking at the Port of Mombasa on Wednesday. The cruise vessel had a total of 1,600 passengers on board, including 500 crew. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The tourism sector performance has rebounded strongly with earnings reaching Sh352.54 billion last year, a 31.5 per cent growth form Sh268.2 billion that the industry earned in 2022.

The performance last year also marked a major milestone, with the earnings surpassing the pre-Covid pandemic numbers of Sh296.2 billion recorded in 2019 - which has until now been the industry’s best year – by 32 per cent. 

The immense recovery has been attributed to the  weakening of the Kenya shilling against major global currencies and the effects of inflation locally and internationally. The rebound was also on account of higher per capita spending by arriving tourists.

The number of tourists coming to Kenya also increased to 1.95 million last year, a 31.5 per cent increase, compared to 1.48 million visitors the country received in 2022. The visitor numbers are however yet to reach the pre-covid levels. The country received 2.05 million tourists in 2019.

The new data is in a new report by the Tourism Research Institute published Thursday. The tourism report projects that the sector's earnings will grow to Sh430 billion in 2024 and further reach Sh1.024 trillion by 2028. It further projects that visitor numbers will increase to 2.4 million tourists in 2024, and up to 5.7 million visitors by 2028.

The per capita spend per tourist dropped, which the report attributed to a weak shilling.

“Despite the increase in the number of visitors in 2023, the average per capita expenditure in US dollars decreased significantly. The report suggests that although more people visited in 2023 compared to 2022, they spent less on average during their visits, as a result of the weak shilling,” said the report. 

“Considering the average exchange rate for the US dollar in 2022 and 2023, which was Sh117.96 and Sh139.83 respectively, the average per capita expenditure in US dollars was $1531.72 and $1292.15 in 2022 and 2023 respectively.”

Bed occupancy in 2023 remained low at 6.34 million, slightly below the 7 million total in 2022. In 2019, bed occupancy was 9.58 million.

During this period bed occupancy rose by 27 per cent from 4,996,370 in the period January to September 2022 to 6,338,904 in the same period during 2023.

“The improvement in the number of bed occupancy is due to the rise in the number of visitors arriving and growing domestic tourism activity during the period under review, “the report said.

In the same period, Domestic bed occupancy grew by 8 per cent from 3,050,969 in 2022 to 3,300,438 in 2023.

In a previous interview early this year, Tourism Board Chief Executive John Chirchir said the tourism sector was on a path to full recovery.

Tourist arrivals in 2023 recorded a 31.5 per cent increase from 1,483,752 in 2022 to 1,951,185 in 2023

The report showed that the growth in tourist arrivals implies increased revenues, job opportunities and overall development of the tourism sector.

According to the Exit Survey conducted in April 2023, this growth can be attributed to the good value for money, implying that visitors believe that are getting quality experiences relative to the cost of their travel.

The highest number of visitors were recorded in August 2023 at 11 per cent of the total arrivals- This was attributed to the wildebeest migration experience in Maasai Mara around late July to August.

According to the findings, “travel, accommodation and associated costs are within a reasonable budget and it makes destinations more accessible to broader range of potential visitors”.

In 2019, the tourist numbers recorded was 2.05 million, however, in 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a significant drop to record low of 567,000. A steady recovery has been witnessed in the subsequent years leading to the 2023 numbers of 1,951,181.

In 2023, a total of 1,351,438 tourists arrived through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, this is slightly below the 1,423,971 tourists who arrived through that point of entry in 2019 and a 27.16 per cent increase from the previous years.

Moi International Airport received 154,203 tourists in 2023; this is an increase from its 2019 numbers where 128,222 tourists came through the airline- marking a 81.71 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

The 2023 Tourism Sector report shows that most tourists using the road as a mode of transport came through Busia Border at 8 per cent of the total arrivals followed by Namanga Border at 6 per cent and Malaba at 2 per cent. A total of 4,000 visitors used water as the mode of transport through Kilindini Seaport, Shimoni Seaport and Kisumu Pier.

The top-performing source market in 2023 was the United States of America (USA) with 265,310 which was 14 per cent of the total. This was closely followed by Uganda, Tanzania and the United Kingdom with 10 per cent, 8 per cent, and 8 per cent market shares, respectively.

 The USA market surpassed the 2019 mark when it yielded 245,437 arrivals. Also, worth noting was the Uganda market performance whose extent of recovery was at 90 per cent, having yielded 223,010 arrivals in 2019.

Notably, 13 of the 30 top market performers were from Africa which together had a share of 60 per cent of the total.

China was the most improved source market. The visitors increased from 20,260 in 2022 to 52,865 in 2023, translating to a 161 per cent growth. This was attributed to the reopening of its borders at the beginning of 2023. Italy was second where the arrival number increased from 31,301 in 2022 to 69,080 in 2023. South Korea, Australia and Spain also registered significant growth with 99 per cent, 89 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively as indicated

Majority of international tourists came for holiday, topping the list at 45 per cent. This was followed by those Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) at 24 per cent of the total. Arrivals on business and MICE came at a close third with 24 per cent.

Other visitors came for other purposes such as religion, education, medical, employment and sporting activities. Additionally, 5 per cent were visitors who entered the country while in transit to their final destinations.

The main purpose of visit by African nationals was mainly for Business and Visiting Friends and relatives.

In the year 2023, Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) segment recorded a 37.75 per cent growth from 18,658 the previous year to 25,703 international delegates in 2023.

The number of international delegates increased during September in the year 2023 triggered by high-profile meetings Kenya hosted during the year.  “These were the EU- Kenya Business Forum in Nairobi, Africa Climate Summit and the East Africa Regional Tourism Expo and Magical Kenya Travel Expo and United Nations Habitat Assembly on Urban Agenda,” Tourism report for 2023.

According to the report, increased government promotion, bidding and lobbies that led to hosting of several high-profile meetings such as the Africa Climate Change Conference and Youth Connect Africa Summit 2023, contributed to the number of local delegates increasing to 444,638 in 2023, from 433,793 in the year 2022 for the period between January and September.

The number of local conferences held in the country was 7,255 between the periods January to September in the year 2023 compared to same period 2022 which recorded 6,811. The increase was attributed to increased hosting of several high-profile international meetings in the country.

The report also shows visitor statistics for the 2023 calendar year across all KWS-managed parks, reserves, and sanctuaries.

In the reviewed period, the total number of visitors to KWS Managed Parks, Reserves, and National Wildlife Sanctuaries was 3,000,702, signifying a growth rate of 38 per cent increase compared to the 2,179,925 visitors recorded in 2022.

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