Inside Politics

Drop in tourists’ arrival blamed on rise in Covid

Friday, July 16th, 2021 00:00 |
Tourism CS Najib Balala at hand to receive tourists disembarking a chartered plane at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Photo/PD/FILE

Steve Umidha @SteveUmidha

Foreign tourist arrivals to Kenya slumped in the first half of 2021 as a surge in Covid-19 infections forced Kenya into lockdown mode, official data showed yesterday.

Tourism Research Institute (TRI) said just 305,635 foreign visitors stayed in Kenyan hotels between January and June 2021 – the lowest since 2019 - when the country welcomed 1.54 million international visitors.

The country’s first lockdown started in March 2020, meaning the subsequent months for the tourism sector were affected by restrictions put in place to curb the virus’ spread.

“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 in a statement.

TRI’s figures show that the United States of America (USA) contributed the largest number of foreign visitors with 225,157 travellers who accounted for 11.12 per cent marketshare, followed by Tanzania with 10.48 per cent marketshare.

Other market sources such as the United Kingdom (UK), China and the neighbouring Uganda also registered impressive figures.

In April 2020, the British government barred Kenya among other countries from entering the UK, placing it on its ‘red list’, a decision whose impact was immediately felt in the tourism industry.

Kenya named on red list

The ban was, however, lifted two months later following a dispute from Kenyan authorities and industry stakeholders.

“At the same time, we can see the UK dropped to number 5 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,” said Balala.

Indeed, the sector continues to hurt from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is estimated that the country lost in excess of Sh150 billion in tourism earnings to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 alone, as world’s tourism sector lost at least $1.2 trillion (Sh130 trillion), or 1.5 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), according figures published by UNCTAD on July 1, 2020.

Kenya’s tourism market is one of the leading sources of foreign exchange, earning the country in excess of Sh163.56 billion in 2019, and which had been expected to grow by one percent last year, before the pandemic hit.

The sector contributes 10 per cent of Kenya’s annual GDP and employs over two million people.

However, restrictions on travel to combat Covid-19 reduced airline travel and accelerated cancellations of hotel reservations.

But most airlines have returned to the skies – albeit cautiously in the hope of recovering from the 2020 forfeiture.

The sector was one of the worst hit industries with at least 3.1 million jobs in travel and tourism affected last year, according to data from Kenya Private Sector Alliance, as hotels, bars and restaurants, tour operators, airlines, travel agents and their suppliers and support services recorded low business.

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