Why tourism arrivals stagnated last year
International connectivity by air continues to dictate international tourist arrivals to Kenya, with increased frequencies and new charter flights last year helping maintain arrivals at similar levels as 2018 despite a difficult operating environment.
Overall, Kenya recorded 2,048,834 arrivals in 2019, representing a marginal 1.2 per cent increment from the 2,025,206 recorded in 2018.
Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala partly blames the marginal growth on the Dusit d2 terrorist attack in January 2019 and the subsequent reinstatement of travel alerts where advisories had been lifted in 2018.
Releasing the Kenya Tourism Sector Performance Report 2019 last week, Balala said the top 10 tourism source markets accounted for 35.5 per cent of the Sh163.5 billion revenues the sector generated in 2019.
“The country’s top 10 source markets are well serviced by the aviation sector, a key driver that sustained the positive performance for the sector,” he said.
“This was in addition to political stability, a stable security situation, ease of doing business and investor confidence, as well as the marketing efforts carried out by the ministry and its agencies,” added the CS.
During the period under review, several scheduled and charter airlines —Air France, Qatar Airways, and Ethiopia Airlines, Tui and Neos— increased their frequencies to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Moi International Airport (MIA).
The commencement of Kenya Airways (KQ)’s direct flights to New York in October 2018 helped to shore up the US numbers.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said plans are underway to nationalise the carrier, which remains critical in the growth of the economy and specifically tourism.
“Tourism is a leading foreign exchange earner contributing about 10 per cent to the GDP.
We want to look at how we can facilitate this sector, which is among the least funded, but its potential to contribute to the revenue is enormous,” Yatani told journalists.
Of the top three source markets, the United States led with 245,437 arrivals, followed by Uganda at 223,010 and the United Republic of Tanzania completing the list with 193,740 arrivals. The UK, India, China, Germany, France, Italy and South Africa respectively, completed the top 10 list.
France, at 14 per cent, recorded the highest growth with 54,979 arrivals last year compared to 48,189 in 2018.
After resuming flights between Paris and Nairobi in 2018, Air France increased frequencies from three to five in March last year, boosting arrivals.
Balala regretted that there was a sharp decline to arrivals from Italy, which he attributed to a backlash from the November 21, 2018, incident in Kilifi where an Italian aid worker, Silvia Romano, was kidnapped with the case making international headlines.
The Italian government has been calling for a speedy expansion of Malindi runway to allow landing of scheduled flights from Europe to boost tourism and investments.
In June, KQ launched flights from Nairobi to Geneva and Rome as it seeks to grow earnings. Italian envoy to Kenya Alberto Pierri, lauded the introduction of direct flights from Rome to Nairobi, with a connecting flight to Malindi.
“More investors from Italy are willing to come here and the Kenyan government should create a conducive environment for business,” he said during the World Italian Cuisine fete held in North Coast last month.
According to Balala, the launch of direct flights from Doha to Mombasa in December 2018 by Qatar Airways is already serving various markets, Doha being a major connecting hub.
Ethiopian Airlines also increased flight frequencies to Mombasa from one to two daily; while TUI increased charter flights, further boosting arrivals to Kenya via Moi International Airport (MIA), Mombasa.
However, he said, the financial years 2018-2020 have seen a decline in budgetary resources available for tourism development and marketing.
This was compounded by a general global slowdown growth in the sector, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reporting that tourism in Sub-Sahara Africa grew at a mere one per cent while globally, growth slowed down from six per cent in 2018 to four per cent last year.
Despite challenges, the State’s continued adoption of a robust regulatory framework ensured Kenya improved its ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report, climbing from position 61 in 2018 to 51 globally.
“This has been pegged on automation of systems that have made starting business in Kenya easy,” said Balala.
The World Bank also praised Kenya for being among top reformists in Africa and the world, while the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum cited Kenya highly in its Business Environment, Travel and Tourism Prioritisation indices compared to competing destinations, boosting the country’s image.
According to the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) 2019 report, performance was also boosted by marketing efforts through Magic Kenya, which launched global online consumer campaigns on Google, online travel agencies such as Travel Zoo, on Aljazeera and CNN online, as well as continuous digital consumer advertising campaigns on Expedia and Tripadvisor, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google search.
This is in addition to attending global travel trade exhibitions and trade shows in the UK, India, USA and China markets and a launch of a new campaign dubbed “EmbraceMoreMagic” which highlighted deeper engagement with diversity of the destination.