Why hotels in Kenya must embrace domestic market

The tourism industry is slowly recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

In Summary

•A number of hotels, mainly at the coast, have in the past been accused of discriminating locals in favour of international visitors.

Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala has urged industry players to give locals superior products and services similar to the international visitors.

Kenya’s tourism industry must embrace the local market that continues to offer a life-line to the sector hard-hit by the pandemic, CS Najib Balala has said.

He has urged industry players to give locals superior products and services similar to the international visitors.

“We need to change the mindset and talk about business in general and not international verses domestic. Kenyans should get same preferences and privileges being extended to other markets,” Balala said during a recent event in Nairobi.

A number of hotels, mainly at the country coastal holiday destination, have in the past been accused of discriminating locals in favour of international visitors.

Pre-Covid, some facilities would turn down locals from bookings as they anticipated foreign visitors, whether they checked-in or not.

The Covid-19 pandemic which struck in 2020 however left the hotel, travel, and tourism industry on its knees.

The two-year drought led to closure of key tourist facilities countrywide.

At least 1.2 million full-time jobs were lost last year on the impact of the pandemic, according to a report by the Tourism ministry.

This came with a Sh152.4 billion loss in labour income as employers in the industry cut operations on low visitor numbers.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, both international and domestic tourism faced near collapse leading to substantial job losses across all the tourism sub-sectors,” the report by the Tourism Research Institute(TRI) reads in part.

The government has been encouraging Kenyans and residents to support the local tourism industry, a move that has seen the sector remain afloat, albeit meagre returns.

Last year, domestic bed occupancy grew to 3.1 million as compared to 1.5 million the previous year, TRI data indicate, an increase of 101.3 per cent.

International bed nights grew by a paltry 0.05 per cent.

“These bed-nights recovery trends are an indication that the hospitality sector in Kenya has largely been supported by domestic travel in 2021,” TRI says.

The UNWTO in September 2020 said recovery of destinations will be driven by domestic markets.

“The domestic market has been resilient and I want to thank Kenyans for the support they have continued to give the industry,” Balala said in a recent interview with the Star.

He urged the industry to make destination Kenya affordable.

“I cant do Dubai for $400 and Mombasa $300, we have to make our destinations affordable,” the Tourism and Wildlife CS said.


To make the country’s game, marine parks, and reserves attractive, the ministry has reviewed park fees, coming up with seasonal rates that reduced entry charges by 50 per cent during low seasons.

According to Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS), visitation by both residents and non-residents to its parks is highly seasonal, creating fluctuations in all tourism businesses.

“This has caused operational and financial constraints not only to KWS but to communities around parks depending on tourism. By creating a seasonal tariff structure, it is projected that tour operators and other visitors will take advantage of attractive discounts to visit the parks,” KWS said recently.

The seasonal fees have low and high seasons, unlike the current uniform charges.

The low season covers the period March 1, to  June 30, while the high season covers July 1, to February 28.

For instance during the high season, getting into the premium parks of Amboseli and Lake Nakuru will cost Sh 800 for East Africa Citizens/ Kenyan Residents, while children will pay Sh 215.

A visit during the low season (March-June) will attract Sh 600 for a Kenyan adult and Sh 215 for a child.


Local budget carriers, tour operators and the SGR have been instrumental in moving local tourists to the different destinations.

For instance, Jambojet has bee flying to Mombasa eight times, Malindi four times, and Diani and Lamu two or three times a day.

According to managing director Karanja Ndegwa, 80 per cent of the travelers are Kenyans on leisure or business trips.

“We target to fly at least 1 million passengers this year,” Ndegwa said during a recent event in Nairobi.

Balala called on local carriers to increase their offerings and connectivity in the country.

“The future of travel of low cost,” the CS said, even as he renewed his calls for an Open Skies Policy for Africa to encourage travel in the continent.

“Let us domesticate Africa,” he said.

Meanwhile, investment in infrastructure, among them the Nairobi Expressway are expected to ease movement and make the capital attractive.

It is expected to address the perennial city traffic, easing movement between the country’s biggest airport-JKIA and facilities across the city.

Domestic for Easter

The calls by Balala come as hoteliers bank on the local market, mainly Nairobi, to drive this week’s Easter numbers.

Traditionally, Nairobi has been a key feeder during holidays with almost every facility seeking a pie of the city residents this year, mainly the middle and upper class who holiday at the coast.

Other major towns that attract city residents during festivities are Naivasha (hotels and camping), Nanyuki, Nakuru and Kisumu with Airbnb and apartments the latest accommodation mode that is giving major hotel facilities a run for their money.

At the Coast, hoteliers project an occupancy rate of between 60-70 per cent for facilities in Mombasa, and between 70-80 per cent for Diani.

Last minute bookings expected next week could however push occupancy rate to above 80 per cent, the Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA) notes.

“The least performing hotel is expected to have an occupancy of about 60 per cent ...thus for the beach hotels but generally the prospects are looking good” KCTA chief executive Julius Owino told the Star on telephone.

Sun Africa Hotels which owns Keekorok Lodge (Masai Mara) and Lake Naivasha Country Club has reported increased inquiries for Easter following the expo, with greater interest coming from Nairobians.

“The domestic market has picked up ahead of Easter. We are projecting to do at least over 80 per cent during the Easter period,” said Catherine Chuani, director sales and marketing, Sun Africa Hotels.

Its Nyali Sun Africa Beach Hotel & Spa is expected to have an occupancy of above 80 per cent, majority domestic visitors.

Low budget carriers have also reported good business next week.

Fly 748 that provides both charter and scheduled services, has partnered with hotel facilities to sale complete travel and accommodation packages.

Chairman Ahmed Jibril said: “We are slowly leaving the Covid-19 turbulence behind us as the pandemic becomes endemic, giving more people confidence to fly as economies also open up to boost disposable income.”

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