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Repackaging Kenya’s tourism industry

by Sharon Chepngetich

Tourism, as one of Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner and third largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after agriculture and manufacturing, has been growing fast as a result of various factors including liberalization, persification of tourist markets and continued Government support and commitment.

Government has trained its focus on providing an enabling environment for the sector, participated in promotions and is working on structures to ensure political stability, earmarking it as one of the strategic sectors for economic growth and development.

Tourism recorded a substantial improvement in 2018 compared to 2017, in tourism arrivals, domestic tourism and earnings.

According to the 2018 economic survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the tourism sector recorded improvements during the year under review despite a prolonged electioneering period and negative travel advisories issued by some countries.

Improved performance in the sector was supported by enhanced security and aggressive promotion in both domestic and in the international markets. The increased performance was mainly attributed to growth in aviation, investor confidence and withdrawals of travel advisories.

The performance was also boosted by visits by foreign dignitaries and revitalized marketing effort. The robust performance of tourism in 2018 indicate the sector is poised to achieve the set targets by 2020 as contained in the Third Medium Term Plan (MTP 111) 2018-2022.

Travel and Tourism sector has proven to drive economic growth, create jobs and boost social inclusion. The sub-sectors are responsible for 8.3 per cent of all Kenya’s employment or 1.1 million jobs, and GDP contribution is projected to grow by 5.9 percent in 2019.

Although the country’s economic performance declined to 4.9 per cent in 2017 from 5.8 per cent in 2016, several factors will continue to drive the economy and almost certainly help reach the estimated growth.

These drivers include enhanced security in Kenya, a steady macroeconomic environment, and most importantly, improved infrastructural developments.

In keeping with UNWTO’s priority of promoting sustainable tourism, it is no doubt that proper tourism infrastructure is a key metric in measuring the environmental, social and economic impact at destinations.

It can either be a stimulant of tourism destinations’ growth if prudently developed and maintained or a deterrent if neglected. Appropriate infrastructure including high-quality accommodation, unbeatable tour packages and attractions; and primarily, transport infrastructure such as roads, rails, air and seaports, all serve to facilitate seamless travel for tourists both the Kenyan domestic and international traveler.

Over the years, Kenya has made great milestones in developing sustainable infrastructure including the Standard Gauge Railway, whose ongoing network expansion beams a light on tourism destinations.

This will be made possible by the easy and fast accessibility and connection of one destination to another. Synergies between the government especially local governments and the private stakeholders in refining the country’s road networks, will go a long way in growing not only the popular but also the less explored destinations.

Travel and Tourism in Kenya grew faster than the regional average and significantly above other economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the latest estimates by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

In the year 2018, Travel and Tourism grew by 5.6 percent to contribute Kshs.790 billion (US$ 7.9 billion) and 1.1 million jobs to the Kenyan economy. This rate of growth is faster than the global average of 3.9 per cent and the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 3.3 per cent.

According to the Tourism sector performance Report 2018, the country earned Ksh.157 billion (US$ 1.57 billion) in 2018 up from Ksh119 billion (US$ 1.19 billion) in 2017, reflecting a 31.26 percent growth. Bed occupancy increased from 3.64 million in 2017 to 3.97 million in 2018, depicting a 9.03 per cent increase.

The report cites political stability, improved security, growth in the aviation sector including the direct flights to the US and investor confidence where Kenya improved from position 92 to 80 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, as some of the drivers for the growth witnessed in the sector last year.

Other factors that drove the growth included withdrawal of travel advisories by the US and the UK governments, high profile foreign visits including those by Heads of State and their spouses and the adoption of the open border policy for Africans that provides for issuance of tourists visas on arrivals. This makes Kenya the third largest tourism economy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In a past event, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. Najib Balala elaborated on the gains in the sector and expressed his satisfaction on its overall achievement.

“The gains of the sector are as a result of coordinated efforts between various arms of government, whom the tourism sector has engaged, as well as the concerted efforts in marketing Kenya as a destination of choice,” the CS said.

Government has identified the sector as one of the six priority sectors in its development blueprint. And it is working on improving services to improve its performance, implementing key programs such as giving incentives to charter flights and launching an aggressive marketing campaign under the Magical Kenya to promote the sector.

Among the unique combinations that make up the local tourism sector are unique combinations of tourist attractions such as beautiful beaches, coral reefs, caves and river deltas, abundant wildlife including the “big five” in their natural habitats, national parks and game reserves, good climate, beautiful geographical landscapes and savannah grasslands.

Kenya’s advantage over other Eastern Africa regions has been the high level of international air connectivity, better local infrastructure and tourist facilities. The main sources of tourists are Europe (particularly the UK, Germany and Italy) and the US, though there has also been an uptake in the numbers from Asia (especially China) and other African countries.


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