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Kenya’s tourism sector recorded improvements in 2017, despite a prolonged electioneering process and negative travel advisories from some countries. This is according to Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics’ Economic Survey 2018, released on April 25.
Overall international visitor numbers rose by 8.1% from 2016 to 2017. This includes significant increases in both leisure and business arrivals. As a result, earnings rose by a remarkable 20.3% to US$1.19bn (€991.7m) in 2017. Tourism Update spoke with Wausi Walya, PR and Corporate Communications Manager of the Kenya Tourism Board. “We also noted an increase in other minor categories such as medical travel, people visiting relatives and so on,” she said.
Germany, the UK and the US provided most international visitors. “We saw the direct Air France flight from Paris to Nairobi announcement towards the end of last year, which is also significant for our European numbers,” added Walya. She further noted that, with the news of a direct Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to New York’s JFK Airport set to take off in October 2018, visitor numbers from the US are expected to increase even more.
Air travel continues to be the predominant source of international arrivals. The country’s major airports, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi and Moi International Airport (MIA) in Mombasa, both reported a total increase in arrivals.
Visitors from Australia and New Zealand grew significantly, from 46 900 in 2016 to 71 100 in 2017. Walya attributes this to a more direct marketing strategy aimed at these countries as well as ties between the countries related to sport. Walya explained: “Sports tourism is helping us promote our country. Rugby has played a role in linking Kenya with these countries and that means more exposure for us in their countries.”
Kenya’s 2017 election controversy did have an effect on visitors. In late August 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the August 8 election that had seen Uhuru Kenyatta win more than 50% of the vote to remain in office. The Court declared the election invalid on grounds of irregularities and called for a re-election. This move had a marked effect on visitor arrivals, with numbers dropping in August, September and October. In the lead-up to the re-election set for October 26, arrivals at JKIA dropped to 56 000, down significantly from the same period in 2016. Hotel bed occupancy also indicated a decline in visitors over this period, dropping by 3% in October compared with the same month in 2016.
Coastal regions in Kenya remained the most visited areas in 2017 with a 42.6% share of the country’s total hotel bed occupancy. However, Walya noted a successful year for wildlife tourism, with an increase of around 100 000 international visitors staying in national parks and game reserves overnight. “Wildlife tourism is popular amongst international visitors and this is demonstrating that our wildlife and park management has been successful,” she said.
Conference tourism declined over the 2017 period. Kenya’s Statistics Bureau attributes this to the prolonged political instability as well as regular travel advisories warning visitors against Kenya. The total number of international conferences held in 2017 dropped to 191 from 2016’s 227.