•It was closely followed by Tanzania which had 536, 491 in the year under review.
•Rwanda came third with 494, 000 followed by Uganda which closed the year at 475, 085.
Kenya's 2020 tourism arrivals topped in the region despite the Covid-19 impact, according to East African Business Council (EABC) data.
Earnings from the international arricals however dropped by 80 percent
Average arrivals to the region fell 69.3 per cent to 2.2 million compared to 7.1 million arrivals in 2019.
According to EABC, Kenya had a total of 567,848 arrivals. It was closely followed by Tanzania which had 536, 491 in the year under review.
Rwanda came third with 494, 000 followed by Uganda which closed the year at 475, 085. Burundi's arrivals stood at 90,000.
Pre-covid, Kenya had recorded a total of 2, 048, 834 in 2019.
According to Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, the tourism sector has been hard hit as global travel and local conferences remain restrained by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 80 per cent drop translates to about Sh130.9 billion, based on 2019 total industry revenues where the sector generated a total of Sh163.6 billion.
Between March and June, the country lost 50 per cent of total annual tourism earnings, which is about Sh81.8 billion.
The pandemic has dealt a major blow according to Balala, who had projected and was pushing for an annual record of five million international tourists by 2025.
In terms of impact on employment, it is estimated that tourism jobs in the region dropped from about 4.1 million jobs to 2.2 million jobs representing a 48 per cent decline.
The impact on job was slightly less in Tanzania compared to other partner states as it did not institute stringent Covid-19 containment measures.
Uganda and Rwanda experienced the largest dips in visitors to parks at 68.7 per cent and and 67.5 per cent respectively.
Tanzania and Kenya recorded 61.8 per cent and 60.3 per cent respectively.
“The variance in the drop could be explained by higher participation of domestic tourists in Kenya and Tanzania. It is also noted that Tanzania encouraged international travel during the second half of the year which could have forestalled bigger declines in visitor to parks,” EABC says in its report.
After Kenya opened its skies, the country started recording business on international arrivals mainly business travelers as month-on-month arrivals almost doubled to 26,018 in September.
This is 85.2 per cent up compared to the 14,049 visitors who came into the country in August after the resumption of international flights.
Tourism Research Institute (TRI) data shows 44.9 per cent of the international arrivals (11,696 visitors) came to Kenya for business and MICE (Meetings, incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), signaling Kenya's regional importance as a trade and business hub.
Currently, the government, through the tourism ministry, is pushing for domestic tourism to try and sustain the sector which is the most hard-hit by the pandemic.
International arrivals are expected to remains low mainly on the recent decision by the US to give the highest travel advisory on Kenya.
Pre-Covid, the US was the top market source for international tourists to Kenya 245,437 arrivals in 2019, a year that the country record the highest international numbers ever, at 2,048, 834.
The UK also recently added Kenya on its ‘Red List’, saying it had established the lethal South African coronavirus variant is spreading locally, with the country having a high rate of Covid-19 infections.
The move has further dented international arrivals into the country.
There has however been a number of chartered flights, mainly from Ukraine, that has brought international tourists into the country, helping the sector remain afloat.