Tourism hits 7-year low ahead of drive

The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has its work cut as it prepares to roll out a Sh5.2 billion international marketing campaign after half-year visitor arrivals fell to a seven-year low.

The number of international tourists slumped to 347,398 between January and June compared to 428,223 in a similar period last year, marking the lowest half-year performance since 2008, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Measured on monthly basis, however, the June performance represents a rebound for a year which began with 50,953 arrivals in January.

“The total number of visitors arriving through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport increased from 53,275 in May to 63,085 in June,” says KNBS.

The KTB has said the numbers are set to grow as the country prepares to host global events later in the year which are expected to attract thousands of participants.

“The sector’s fortunes are improving,” said managing director Muriithi Ndegwa, adding that security had improved – a situation that saw the UK last month lift travel aisories for its citizens touring Kenya’s coastal towns.

The UK is Kenya’s largest tourist source market and had issued the warnings last year following terror attacks in Kenyan towns. The US and Australia are yet to lift their aisories.

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Mr Ndegwa cited the just concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit that was headlined by President Barack Obama in Nairobi as a vote of confidence in the country’s security.

The ongoing annual wildebeest migration spectacle at the Mara River in Narok is also expected to increase tourist traffic.

Kenya experienced its highest tourist numbers in the first half of 2012 of 564,825 after a slump in 2008 due to the post-election violence that rocked the country and shrunk the numbers to 273,820.

Tourism is a vital foreign exchange earner for the nation, which boasts of white sandy beaches and safari trails. But a two-year slump has forced hotels to shut, cut job numbers and sent the shilling to three-year lows.

This has prompted the country to diversify its attractions portfolio away from the traditional palm-fringed beaches and sprawling parks to a renewed focus on conference tourism.