UK–Kenya travel restrictions hurt half-year visitor numbers

International visitors to Kenya were 305,635 in six months to June.

In Summary

•UK red-listed Kenya which also retaliated by restricting visitors from the UK.

•This comes as the pandemic continues to affect global travel and tourism. 

Tourists alight from a chartered flight at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa/
Tourists alight from a chartered flight at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa/

The heightened travel restrictions between Kenya and the UK in April led to a drop in international arrivals into the country, amid Covid-19 impact on the sector.

Pre-Covid, UK was the second overseas market source with 181,484 arrivals in 2019, a year that saw the country record the highest international numbers ever, at 2,048, 834, with the US being the lead market with 245,437 visitors.

The decision by the UK to place Kenya on its ‘Red List’ this year, over the lethal South African coronavirus variant, affected arrivals from the traditional market as tourists to Kenya remained low in the first six months of the year.

Tourism Research Institute (TRI) data released yesterday indicates Kenya recorded 305,635 international arrivals in the period between January and June 2021.

This is 262, 213 shy of the total arrival recorded in full year 2020 which the East African Business Council (EABC) has captured at 567,848, as Kenya led her regional peers in the number of international visitors.

During the six months reviewed by TRI, the US topped with 49,178 arrivals followed by Uganda and Tanzania which had 31,418 and 31,291 of its citizens visit Kenya, respectively.

China for the first time beat UK with a total of 18,069 arrivals as British visitors to Kenya totalled 16,264, a distant fourth among top five markets.

It was followed by India with 13,950 visitors, a period that visiting family and friends topped the reason of travel to Kenya (94,241 arrivals), as opposed to the traditional holidays to beach destinations and parks.

We can see the UK dropped to number five due to the effects of the unfair travel restrictions and putting Kenya in the Red list despite our Covid-19 numbers giving a different scenario,” Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala said in a statement yesterday.

When Kenya was red listed, the government retaliated by banning visitors from the UK with the two countries restricting flights from either end.

Kenya Airways, a key carrier on the route and other airlines were affected as UK banned Kenyans or anybody transiting through Kenyan airports from setting foot in the UK, save for residents who had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a government listed facility.

“We are still engaging and we hope these travel restrictions will be lifted not only by the UK but across the world. Meanwhile, we are still continuing to observe safe travel protocols, ” Balala said.

During the period under review, business and MICE(Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) was the second most purpose of travel, which saw 92,828 visitors come into the country.

Holiday travellers came in third with a total of 87,629 arrivals while those on transit totalled 15, 811.

Other purposes were education(8,637), medical (3,592), religion (1,722) while 1,175 came into the country for sporting activities.

The six-month arrival is a paltry 14.9 per cent of the total 2, 048, 834 arrivals in 2019, the highest in the country's history which saw earnings hit Sh163.56 billion.

It falls short of the 860,000 international visitors projected in the medium-term if the economy was to open in July last year.

The pandemic which has affected the global travel trends, hitting the tourism industry hard, saw Kenya lose Sh130.9 billion in potential revenues last year, as the government stared at a loss of up to Sh2.5 billion in catering levy alone.

Government data in collaboration with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance indicates at least 3.1 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector were hit four months after the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kenya, in March.

These include hotel employees, pubs and restaurants, tour operators, airlines, travel agents and their related suppliers and support services.

About 2.3 million employees were sent home on unpaid leave with most hotel temporarily closing.

The government has been counting on domestic tourists, mainly from Nairobi, to cushion the industry from collapse, as sector players hope for a strong post-Covid recovery in the wake of continued vaccination across the globe.

Domestic tourism accounted for 4.9 million bed-nights in 2019.

The numbers however remain low on the occasion of the on-and-off cessation of movement and the nation-wide curfew which has been in place since last year.

“The vaccine is expected to be a significant boost for the tourism and hospitality industry, which has been badly affected by border closures, travel restrictions, curfew and social distancing measures related to Covid-19," notes Hasnain Noorani, PrideInn Group Managing Director.