•National data shows, even though Kenya’s tourism earnings grew in 2021, the country is yet to recover from the two-year Covid induced slump.
•A number of flashpoints are on industry players' radar as the country is projected to recover back to 2019 levels by 2024.
Kenya's incoming government faces a daunting task of revitalising the tourism sector which is yet to fully recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Data by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that even though Kenya’s tourism earnings grew by 65.4 per cent last year to Sh146.51 billion compared to Sh88.56 billion in 2020, the country is yet to recover from the two-year slump.
The sector, which contributes almost 10 per cent of Kenya's GDP, shed nearly 1.2 million jobs after the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. It has however started to regain some of the losses.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has projected full recovery for the industry by 2025, although numbers are expected to cross the one million mark this year.
Coast hoteliers and leaders are pegging hopes on open skies policy for sector revival.
Julius Owino, Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA) chief executive officer told the Star the Kenyan coast is struggling to attract more foreign tourists due to restriction on direct foreign flights to the region.
Owino said players are upbeat that the next government will issue licences to interested international airlines in the first 100 days in office.
He said lack of an open sky policy has disadvantaged the region which now has to heavily depend on domestic visitors, denying the country the much needed foreign exchange.
Several airlines including the Turkish airline, Emirates, Flydubai, Qatar have expressed interest to operate direct flights to Mombasa.
Applicants have complained of delayed clearance by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.
To place Kenya global tourism map, Jubilee government's successor will have to develop and implement targeted campaign to high-value source international markets including USA,UK, China, UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Tourism earnings are projected to hit at at least Sh172.9 billion by end of this year with ministry banking on new market areas.
Currently, Kenya is on an aggressive campaign to reclaim its position as a conference destination after two years of reduced activities.
Owino said the next government should leverage on the Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) to increase traffic into the the country.
The MICE Blue Print, developed in 2019 but hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, was recently launched by the Kenya National Convention Bureau (KNCB).
According to the bureau, Kenya is eyeing European countries which research has shown to be largest MICE generators.
In Germany, companies mainly in finance, insurance, pharmaceuticals and automotive, have a large share in the outbound MICE market.
They also spend high budgets on events and incentives, KNCB national coordinator Jacinta Nzioka told the Star in an interview.
“These industries predominantly organise kick-off events, conferences and meetings,” she said.
In Kenya, most of the big meetings are currently being secured by foreign organisers, Nzioka said, a scenario the bureau wants to change.
FINANCING THE 2022-2025 TOURISM STRATEGY
Kenya’s National treasury will have to find resources to implement the recently launched four- year tourism strategy amid pressure to pay off ballooning debt and fund other government expenditure.
The strategy unveiled by Balala in June is expected to provide a roadmap for the industry to diversify the key offering.
Among the key areas include identification of adventure hiking and mountaineering experiences as key catalysts in the recovery of tourism sector.
The ratings and research firm Fitch projects a stronger growth of 47.3 per cent for 2022, as the recovery in global travel gains traction.
A further double-digit growth is expected through to 2025 which will take international arrivals to above 2.2 million.