Nairobi — The African continent is the biggest market source for Kenya's international tourists, latest government statistics show, beating top traditional sources of US and Europe.
Visitors from the continent to the East African country closed at above 800,000 in the year to December 31, boosting tourism earnings for Kenya.
The European continent was the second biggest market source with 611,000 visitors followed by Asia (282,000), US (247,000) while Oceanian countries contributed 35,000 visitors to the country in the year. Visitors from the Middle East were 20,000.
A chart of tourists arrival by continent.
Tourism earnings for the year grew by about 32.2 per cent, from Ksh119 billion to Ksh157.4 billion, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala announced on Monday.
This came as total arrivals jumped the 2 million mark for the first time, closing at 2,025,206 tourists, compared with 1,474,671 international arrivals the previous year.
Balala, who presented the figures to President Uhuru Kenyatta and the country at an event in Mombasa, has attributed the growth to improved security , infrastructure development and aggressive marketing campaigns, especially digital marketing by the Kenya Tourism Board(KTB).
Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala with UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili enjoying a jig at last year's Magical Kenya Travel Expo.
"Africa has proven to be a very significant contributor to our arrivals," Balala noted, attributing the strong performance to the open skies policy, backed by open borders initiative between Kenya and her neighbours.
These are mainly Uganda, which has high human activities at the Malaba and Busia borders with Kenya and the Tanzania-Kenya border of Namanga.
One Stop Border Posts (OSBP) between the countries has eased movement of goods and passengers, hence boosting tourism in the region.
During the year, domestic tourism more than doubled with bed-nights clocking 9.7 million, up from 3.6 million the previous year, with huge numbers recorded at the countries beach destinations in the coast region.
Per country, the US remained the biggest contributor accounting for 225,157 arrivals in the year.
Tanzania was second with 212,216 tourists while Uganda was third with 204,082 arrivals. Visitors from the United Kingdom (U.K) closed the year at 184,000 while those from Germany were 78,000.
Other key markets were India, China, Italy, South Africa, Canada and Ethiopia.
President Uhuru Kenyatta who acknowledged the good performance has challenged the private sector to remain innovative and develop more appealing products to remain competitive in the fast changing global trends.
"We have huge potential," the President said, "This potential is not going to be fulfilled because as we know we have become a global market space. We cannot continue to ply the same products we have been plying for the last 20 years and we expect a change."
"We must invest in pour products. We must improve in our products. We must be able to realise today's traveler has so many options and Kenya is only one of them," said the President whose family runs the Heritage Hotels.
He said though Kenya and other African countries are complementing one another, they are equally competing with other global destinations hence the need to offer top class products.
"We have to give people reasons to come. We have to improve the quality and standards of our game reserves and our game parks," President Kenyatta said, "We have to improve discipline on our beaches so that when tourists want to enjoy a swim they are not harassed."
The Kenyan coastal beaches are frequented by hawkers who try to sale their wares to tourists. The beaches are also common with beach boys seeking to link up with tourists along the beach, as they try to play host to the foreigners for monetary gains.
"We are competing against Dubai, Singapore , Thailand and all these long-haul destinations," the President noted saying as the government invests in marketing Kenya as a destination, investors in the private sector must ensure they do not disappoint.
"We cannot invest in marketing then people come and get disappointed in products they find here," Kenyatta said.
Kenya has for decades remained a top Safari and Beach holiday destination, with a recent growth in Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism. Her neighbor Tanzania has remained one of the biggest competitors in East Africa as it offers similar products.
CS Balala said the ministry is putting up strategies to tap more Chinese and Indian tourists who have continued to increase their international visits to other global destinations.
Top tourist attractions in Kenya include the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Tsavo National Park and the Amboseli National Park which offer Safari products including high end tented camps.
The Mount Kenya and its surroundings also stand out as a top destination in Kenya with a national park, hotels and tented camps. The Great Rift Valley offers epic views along other attractions such as at Lake Nakuru (flamingo and wildlife) Mbogoria (hotspring) among others.
It has a number of high end hotels and camps which are well aligned with tourist attraction sites.
The Western circuit of Kisumu, Kakamega and the entire Nyanza and Western regions also have rich cultural products, hotels and parks.
Kenya's coastline with a total length of 1, 420 kilomteres is famous for its white sandy beaches with leading hotel and beach destinations in Diani and Mombasa. Other top holiday destinations are in Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu.
Lamu Island (Old Town) is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions. It is a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is well connected to international airports around the world making it easy for tourists to travel to the country, with spillover effects being felt by her neighbours.
The Coastal region is served by two key airports-Moi International Airport in Mombasa ,which offers both domestic and international commercial and chattered flights, and the Malindi Airport which is cleared for international arrivals and departures.
The country also has the Kisumu International Airport, Eldoret International Airport and other smaller airports in different towns across the country.
It boasts of having one of the most connected national carrier-Kenya Airways which flies to all major destinations, with a recent on its list being the US where it has direct non-stop flights between its hub-JKIA and the J.F Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The government has also invested heavily in improving the road network in the country. The recent Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which operates between Nairobi and Mombasa has also added to the country's infrastructure developments that have boosted tourism.
The sector (tourism) remains among key contributors to the country's Gross Domestic Product, employing hundreds of thousands both directly and indirectly.
International arrivals were 877,602 in 2016. The numbers dropped from 1.18 million in 2015. In 2014, the country had 1.35 million international arrivals. Arrivals were 1.5 million in 2013, 1.7 million in 2012 and 1.8 million in 2011.