Kenya turns to China, domestic market to rebuild tourism


NAIROBI — Kenya’s tourism will turn to China and seek to develop its domestic market to inject new life in a sector battered by recent post-election violence, tourism officials said Thursday.

“China is an important market, a new market and a growing one,” said Rebecca Nabutola, permanent secretary at the ministry of tourism and wildlife.

More than 18,700 Chinese tourists visited the East African nation in 2007, up 27 percent from the number of arrivals recorded in 2006, she said at a press conference.

While flights from Kenya’s traditional tourism markets — notably in Europe — were halted or reduced following the eruption of post-election strife in late December, China did not issue travel advisories.

“We’re not going to China in an attempt to rebuild our image… it was never really dented and tourist behaviour was not really affected,” said Nabutola, part of a delegation heading to China next week to boost tourism.

Tourism is the top foreign currency earning sector in Kenya and suffered from the worldwide attention attracted by the electoral dispute and ensuing cycle of tribal violence and revenge killings.

With a fast-growing middle-class, China — the world’s most populated country and its fourth largest economy — is a coveted market for all top tourist destinations.

“There’s also a lot of potential and a lot of interest that has come from India,” the ministry official said.

With cancellations from overseas tourists hitting around 90 percent in January, the ministry has launched a recovery programme which will also involve the development of domestic tourism.

“If we want a sustainable tourism sector, we need a solid domestic base,” Nabutola said. The domestic market currently accounts for only 25 percent of the sector’s revenue, a figure she said Kenya hoped to double.