An international award won by Kenya for the fourth time is set to promote the country’s tourism sector this year, according to the latest report by Cyntonn Investments, an investment and real estate firm based in Nairobi. Last year, performance was upbeat in the first half, with arrivals increasing by 16.7 per cent between January and July compared to a 14 per cent increase over the same period in 2016.
However, it slowed down in the second half of the year due to the extended election period. Home to 60 national parks and reserves, a broad offering of cultural and historic attractions and over 500 km of a sunny coastline dotted with sandy beaches, Kenya has seen its tourism sector rise to become the second-largest foreign exchange earner.
Only a spate of terrorist attacks beginning 2011, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and security concerns have weighed heavily on the sector, with 2015 marking the fourth consecutive year of declining visitor arrivals.
However, 2016 saw a return to form for the industry, as the sector recorded 17 per cent growth in earnings, riding on the back of increased international arrivals from a diverse array of countries, including the US, China and India. Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, says the number of international visitors arriving by air and sea jumped from 752,073 in 2015 to 877,602 in 2016, representing a 16.7 per cent increase.
Recognising the critical role tourism plays in employment and earnings, the State moved to support the sector with the launch of a Tourism Recovery programme, a 10-point strategy emphasising marketing, infrastructure development and private sector investment. Combined with rising numbers of regional and domestic travellers, and intensifying efforts to develop the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment, the sector is expected to gradually recover with ongoing marketing initiatives helping to boost it to full recovery by 2018.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Economic Impact 2017 Kenya report, the tourism and travel sector’s direct contribution to GDP was $2.5bn (Sh258 billion), or 3.7 per cent in 2016, and was expected to grow by six per cent in 2017.
Tourism and travel directly employs 399,000 Kenyans, or 3.4 per cent of the total workforce. However, tourism total contribution to employment in 2016 was more than a million jobs, which includes those “employed through the supply chain and induced investment impact”, according to the WTTC.
In 2016, Kenya hosted 1.3 million visitors, taking into account those who entered by land, sea and air, a 10.4 per cent increase over 2015, according to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB). According to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector accounts for 10 per cent of GDP and nine per cent of total employment.
Although tourism remains the second-largest foreign exchange earner for the country after agriculture, the sector has lagged behind in recent years as security concerns and the West African Ebola outbreak affected arrivals, revenues and hotel occupancy rates.
In June 2016, CS Balala had told media that these factors had resulted in a cumulative revenue loss of Sh12.8 billion annually since 2011. For the initiatives for recovery, Kenya was awarded the world’s top Safari Destination during the World Travel Awards 2017 held in Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Hotel, Vietnam.
Lee Humphry, with extensive travel globally, said the award was worthwhile, describing Kenya as a wildlife documentary haven and a sunbather’s paradise. The country also plays host to the largest animal movement in the world during the annual wildebeest migration into the Masai Mara, also home to the ‘Big Five’— elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard.
Kenya’s heritage and culture also fascinates visitors. Other awards won included Africa’s leading tourist board, won by KTB; Africa’s luxury adventure destination and luxury tented safari camp, won by Sarova Mara Game Camp in Masai Mara Earlier, another significant award went to Africa’s leading national park, which was won by the Maasai Mara National Reserve at the World Travel Awards -Africa Gala 2017.
“The increased number of international awards accorded to the Kenyan hospitality industry will market it globally, increasing the number of arrivals,” said Elizabeth Nkukuu, chief investment officer at Cytonn.