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Kenya Annual Tourism Report Indicates New Hope

The Kenya Secretary of Tourism, Najib Balala, has been leading his country through the most impossible times in the last three years. There may be, however, a light at the end of tunnel, and Kenya is reacting.

Following a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered setbacks in the year 2021 as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks.

The Hon. Najib Balala never gave up. Awarded the title of a Tourism Hero by the World Tourism Network, he did what a true leader would do – he did not abandon ship.

In times of crisis, the travel and tourism industry came to a halt due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Balala was seen as a symbol of inspiration in Africa and beyond.

Kenya Tourism
Last year, the Kenya Secretary of Tourism, H.E. Najib Balala, was seen with the Saudi Arabia Minister of Tourism, H.E. Mr. Ahmed Al Khateeb, and the Minister of Tourism for Jamaica, H.E. Edmund Bartlett. Kenya had invited delegates to a summit on African Tourism Recovery leading to a Saudi Arabian Initiative of leading tourism countries. Kenya is one of the founding members of the 10-nation tourism interest group led by Saudia Arabia along with Jamaica, Spain, and others.

With a growing indication of hope and a new potential market, Kenya’s just-released 2021 report on the State of the Travel and Tourism industry in this East African country banks on new opportunities and steadily growing arrival numbers.

By the end of September 2021, international tourist arrivals worldwide were 20% lower than the same period in 2020, and 76% below 2019 levels (UNWTO barometer 2021). The Americas recorded the strongest results in the first 9 months of 2021, with arrivals up 1% compared to 2020 but still 65% below 2019 levels.

Europe saw an 8% decline compared to 2020, which is 69% below 2019. In Asia and the Pacific, arrivals were 95% below 2019 levels as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel. Africa and the Middle East recorded 77% and 82% drops respectively compared to 2019.

Arrivals into Kenya from African countries were as follows:

  • Uganda – 80,067
  • Tanzania – 74,051
  • Somalia – 26,270
  • Nigeria – 25,399
  • Rwanda – 24,665
  • Ethiopia – 21,424
  • South Sudan – 19,892
  • South Africa – 18,520
  • DRC – 15,731
  • Burundi – 13,792

Arrivals to Kenya from the Americas:

  • USA – 136,981
  • Canada – 13,373
  • Mexico – 1,972
  • Brazil – 1,208
  • Colombia – 917
  • Argentina – 323
  • Jamaica – 308
  • Chile – 299
  • Cuba – 169
  • Peru – 159

Arrivals to Kenya from Asia:

  • India – 42,159
  • China – 31,610
  • Pakistan – 21,852
  • Japan – 2,081
  • S.Korea – 2,052
  • Sri Lanka – 2,022
  • Philipines – 1,774
  • Bagladesh – 1,235
  • Nepal – 604
  • Kazakhstan – 509

Arrivals to Kenya from Europe:

  • UK – 53,264
  • German – 27,620
  • France – 18,772
  • Netherlands – 12,928
  • Italy – 12,207
  • Spain – 10,482
  • Sweden – 10,107
  • Poland – 9,809
  • Switzerland – 6,535
  • Belgium – 5,697

Arrivals to Kenya from the Middle East:

  • Israel – 2,572
  • Iran – 1,809
  • Saudi Arabia – 1,521
  • Yemen – 1,109
  • UAE – 853
  • Lebanon – 693
  • Oman – 622
  • Jordan – 538
  • Qatar – 198
  • Syria – 195

Arrivals to Kenya from Oceania

  • Australia – 3,376
  • New Zealand – 640
  • Fiji – 128
  • Nauru – 67
  • Papua Guinea – 19
  • Vanuatu – 10

What was the reason for visitors to arrive in Kenya in 2021:

  • Vacation / Holiday/ Tourism: 34.44%
  • Visiting Friends: 29.57%
  • Business and Meetings (MICE): 26.40%
  • Transit: 5.36%
  • Education: 2.19%
  • Medical: 1.00%
  • Religion: 0.81%
  • Sports: 0.24%
Purpose of visit by region

Passenger Landings: 2019 compared to 2020

In 2020, total tourism earnings were US$780,054,000. In 2021, earnings increased to US$1,290,495,840.

The uptrend clearly started in the 4th quarter of 2020 and every quarter increased in 2021 after the low in the 3rd quarter of 2020.

From January to September 2021, bed occupancy increased to a total of 4,138,821 as compared to the same period in 2020 (2,575,812) recording a recovery of 60.7%.

From January up to September 2021, positive growth for room nights of 3,084,957 was realized as compared to the same period in 2020 (1,986,465) indicating a growth of 55.3%.

Domestic bed nights grew by 101.3% between 2020 and 2021, while international bed nights grew by 0.05%. These bed nights recovery trends are an indication that the hospitality sector in Kenya has largely been supported by domestic travel in 2021.

Initiatives that supported the recovery of the Kenya tourism sector in 2021

Domestic campaigns – Kenya: Inanitosha, #Stay-at-home-traveltomorrow in support of the call by UNWTO.

International campaigns – Partnerships with Expedia and Qatar Airways,, trade incentive campaigns in the UK and North America, and fam trips.

Kenya hosted the Magical Kenya Open, WRC, Safari Rally, and World Athletics with less than 20 participants.

Kenya also participated at the World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town, Magical Kenya Travel Expo, and the virtual ITB.

Leveraging on wildlife conservation included a debut for the Magical Kenya Tembo Naming Festival and branding KQ aircraft with iconic species.

Infrastructure projects included the revival of the Nairobi – Nanyuki & Nairobi – Kisumu train, increased frequencies of SGR with tourism facilities creating innovative packages, roads expansion countrywide, and refurbishing airport infrastructure.

Sector initiatives and innovations included new domestic airlines and the launch of new air routes, accommodations, and conference facilities improving magical Kenya protocols, hybrid meetings, packages, and pricing to meet the needs of the new domestic traveler.

The New Vision Strategy for Kenya Tourism implementation commenced in the third quarter of 2021.

The Kenya Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife was active in wildlife security, preventing numbers on elephant and rhino poaching from going up.

The ministry sees a continuation for a slow recovery of the travel and tourism sector for the year 2022, expecting inbound receipts and arrivals to grow between 10-20% from 2021.

The Ministry recommends the following to ensure continuous growth of the visitors market and to take advantage of new opportunities.

  • Expand and modernize Kenya’s aviation industry. JKIA (Nairobi Airport) needs a modern international facility that delivers an efficient and friendly customer experience.
  • There is an urgent need to expand Ukunda and Malindi Airports.
  • Another recommendation is the development of a new convention center with ultra-modern and adequate capacities.
  • Kenya also sees untapped tourism markets.

Markets previously not ranked highly have the potential to grow tremendously. Such inbound tourism markets include France, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Iran, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

More information on tourism in Kenya can be found on the website of the Kenya Tourism Board.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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