The two million international tourists who defied the threat of terrorism and other hitches to visit Kenya last year are the toast of an industry that was staring at doom. After all, this is a business that is sensitive as many people are unlikely to travel to places where their lives will be in grave danger.
The good news is that the country raked in a tidy Sh157 billion from tourism last year. It was an impressive growth of 37 per cent, up from the Sh119 earned in 2017. This performance has reaffirmed tourism as a major foreign exchange earner that can do even better if all the stakeholders diligently played their roles.
Indeed, as Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has pointed out, the volatility of some strong tourist markets in the north, as a result of the Arab Uprising, has been a boon to Kenya. Ironically, it’s during these difficult economic times globally that Kenya has posted its highest annual international tourist arrivals.
As the government boosts security and strives to create an enabling environment for the industry to thrive, the onus is on all the tourism stakeholders, including hotel owners and tour operators, to strive to provide the visitors with the best experience possible to secure repeat visits. These visitors are also a sure bet in spreading the word to would-be tourists if they get value for their money.
However, the effort to woo foreign tourists does not, in any way, diminish the growing impact of domestic tourism. There has been an upsurge in the number of Kenyans keen to know their country better and enjoy its attractions. Tourism ministry data puts this at 3.9 million last year, up from 3.4 million in 2017.
However, more needs to be done to tap the country’s tourism potential to boost the economy.