BY MATHIAS RINGA
International tourist arrivals to Kenya surpassed the two million mark in 2018, according to a Tourism Sector Performance report.
According to the report, which was made public by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, Kenya received 2,025,206 visitors compared with 1, 474,671 arrivals in 2017.
International visitor numbers to the country grew by 37.33 per cent in 2018 to more than two million, earning Kenya a record Sh157 billion up from Sh119 billion, the previous year.
However, despite the record arrivals, Kenya has got a long way to go before it joins the league of top tourist destinations in Africa such as Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.
In 2017, Morocco received more than 11 million international tourists, while South Africa attracted 10.3 million visitors.
Kenya has great potential to attract more international holidaymakers as it boasts iconic national parks, stunningly beautiful beaches at the Coast, world famous monuments and captivating cultures.
For several years, the world renowned Maasai Mara National Reserve has been voted the leading national park in Africa by the World Travel Awards, while Kwale County’s Diani ranked the best beach destination on the African continent.
Apart from beach and safari, Kenya has other eye-catching attractions like Mount Kenya, which is the second tallest mountain in Africa, its sportsmen and women are world beaters in athletics, coupled with lots of natural attractions such as lakes, rivers, the Great Rift Valley and forests rich in biodiversity.
In a comment to the Travel and Tourism Daily, Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa managing director Bobby Kamani attributed the increase in international tourists in 2018 to a combination of factors including Kenya enjoying peace and stability.
“Security in Kenya has improved significantly, as a result many international tourists prefer to flock to the beach destinations for holiday and safari in the parks and game reserves,” Mr Kamani said.
“A political stable climate and improved security around the country throughout 2018 made Kenya a more attractive destination for international travellers (leisure and conference delegates alike).
“The Government’s efforts to market tourism products in international markets through the Kenya Tourism Board also played a key role in attracting more visitors to the country.”
The private sector players, he added, also contributed significantly towards the marketing of their products in local, regional and international markets besides creating more employment, directly and indirectly in the country.
Mr Kamani noted: “A nine per cent increase in domestic bed nights for 2018 was reported in comparison to 2017, further displaying the increased confidence by way of the growing domestic holiday sales by the dynamic travel trade fraternity within the country.
“Several international conferences were held in Kenya last year due to confidence in the country’s safety and capability of handling large conference delegations of international repute.
“The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, the International SKAL Congress and the Africa Hotel Investment Forum, were among high-profile conferences, which were held in the country.”
The growth in the aviation sector, he said, boosted confidence in the region with the launch of direct flights to New York by Kenya Airways and direct flights from Doha to Mombasa by Qatar Airways.
The return of Air France to thrice weekly flights and the return of TUI Fly charter airlines to the Coast, he added, renewed confidence in the tourism sector based on the efforts by stakeholders, the Government and Ministry of Tourism.
Mr Kamani said:“The visit of foreign dignitaries throughout 2018 popularised Brand Kenya on a global scale. Melania Trump, Theresa May, Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres and several African Presidents were all visitors to Magical Kenya in 2018.
“Open border policies such as visa on arrival and the Single African Air Transport Market has encouraged the free movement of people and of goods across borders. Kenya has experienced profound beneficial impact from these undertakings.”