NAIROBI– Kenya’s tourism arrivals are expected to grow 16 percent this year to 1.7 million, up from the 9.8 percent increase recorded in 2017.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala is upbeat that the launch of direct flights to the United States by Kenya Airways, coupled with extensive marketing will help boost activity for the sector.

Revenue in the sector hit 120 billion shillings in 2017, up from 99 billion shillings the previous year.

Kenya’s tourism sector has been battered several times mostly by political factors.

The prolonged election period in 2017 brought about fears of a dismal performance for the sector but the latest figures from the ministry show resilience.

Earnings in the sector grew 20.3% in 2017 to 120 billion shillings, up from the 99 billion shillings recorded in 2016.

Balala says this was boosted by international arrivals, which increased 9.8% to 1.47 million visitors, up from the 1.34 million visitors the country received in 2016.

The United States market has shown tremendous growth where 114,507 visitors came in, in 2017 representing a 17% growth from the previous 97,883 visitors.

These numbers are expected to be bolstered by the introduction of Kenya Airways’ direct flights to the US later in the year as well as a scheduled 10 day road show slated for the American market.

Balala says his ministry has drawn up a blue print to guide on growing the sector.

The four pillars of the blue print include, Review of the marketing strategies, Product development with a focus on the core products, Wildlife and beaches, Investment in tourism projects and Infrastructure development that supports growth in tourism.

According to the CS, the rehabilitation and conservation of the Mara Basin is key to ensuring the survival of the Mara Ecosystem which is home to the Wildebeest migration, a key component to the tourism sector.

The domestic market recorded 4.05 million bed nights in 2017, up 15.9% from the 3.5 million bed nights recorded in the previous year.