Hoteliers worried over violent as travellers start cancelling bookings

Industry leader says the situation could worsen if protests continue.

In Summary

• Tourism source markets are contacting local associations, expressing their concerns.

• The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers has urged the youth to call off the protests adding that chaos won't help save the country.

KAHC Chief Executive Mike Macharia addresses the media at the Neptune Paradise Beach Resort and Spa in Kwale County on Thursday, June 27, 2024.
CONCERNED: KAHC Chief Executive Mike Macharia addresses the media at the Neptune Paradise Beach Resort and Spa in Kwale County on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

What started as peaceful demonstrations by Gen Zs a fortnight ago turned violent last week, amid vandalism and loss of lives, sending a chilling message to the world.

This has now gotten hoteliers and tourism industry players in the country worried over the fate of the industry which has started receiving cancellations from some international markets, in what could deal a blow to the sector.

According to the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC), hotels have reported requests for cancellations from both the international and domestic markets, albeit in low numbers, pegged on the demonstrations being witnessed across the country.

The demos continued last week despite President William Ruto's decision to withdraw the contentious Finance Bill 2024.

KAHC chief executive Mike Macharia said protests have traditionally hurt tourism, calling on Kenyans to end the protests, as international source markets are becoming jittery.

"By and large the business is going on well though we have received requests for cancellations. We are urging our clients to continue with their visits,” Macharia told the Star.

Cancellations could have a huge impact on the country's travel and tourism industry, which heavily depends on the international market, with tourism also being a key foreign exchange earner for the country.

Kenya's earnings from tourism surged 32 per cent to Sh352.5 billion last year as international arrivals increased to 1.96 million, up from 1.48 million visitors in 2022, data by the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) indicates.

"The 2023 figure represents a substantial increase compared to the previous year, highlighting the country’s potential and appeal in the global tourism landscape," TRI noted in its report.

The growth translates to various implications for the local economy, including increased revenue, job opportunities, and the overall development of the tourism sector.

Top five sources were the US with 265,307 arrivals, Uganda (201,620) Tanzania (157,818), United Kingdom (156,701), India (94,273) and Germany (77,907).

The majority (45%) or 875,272 were in the country for holiday or leisure, followed by those visiting friends and relatives (465,851, while business and conferences accounted for 461,042 visitors. 

While the US remains the top sources, European markets remain key for Kenya's tourism industry, with major sources being UK, Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

The European market prefers the coastal destinations of Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Diani while the US predominantly visits the Mara and Mount Kenya circuits.

KAHC has assured visitors of their safety with those seeking to cancel being advised to instead reschedule their travel plans.

Twiga Tours, Kenyan and East Africa's premier Safari company, however, noted there has not been disruptions in business so far in Safari and accommodation bookings from its key sources.

Twiga, one of Kenya’s oldest tour companies, is big in the US market, Europe and South Asia.

"We have assured all visitors that our international and domestic airports, roads to national parks, and the parks themselves are safe and accessible. This protest was an internal affair and tourists are not targets at all which is the case. It is safe for travellers," CEO Minaz Manji said.


KAHC chairman Chris Musau, during the 20th annual KAHC symposium in Diani on Friday, lauded the government for extending 4.9 billion to Tourism Fund and 2.2 billion to Tourism Promotion Fund in the 2024-2025 budget.

“The tourism sector showed robust performance, marking noteworthy steps towards recovery after facing challenges in previous years. Against the background of global uncertainties, the sector’s commitment to invigorating the industry is evident in the strategies implemented and the positive results attained,” he noted.

He said despite the strong performance, the country needs to do more to grow the sector.

“First, we need to increase our air capacity into JKIA and Moi International Airport Mombasa. Secondly, we need to build a convention center in Nairobi and Mombasa,” Musau said.

Tourism Principal Secretary John Ololtuaa said the national government is planning to conduct a National Classification Exercise of hotels, in an exercise that will be led by the Tourism Regulatory Authority.

The mapping out, he said, exercise will help market tourism and promote the sector as well as ensure hotels maintain high standards.

"We want to know the number of both big and small hotels to make it easy for identification and marketing," he said.

Kenya plans to reach 5.5 million international by 2028, in an ambitious plan that involves the private sector, especially on marketing destinations.

The country’s best year remains 2019 when arrivals hit a high of 2.04 million visitors with earnings of Sh296.2 billion.

Earnings are expected to hit Sh359.1 billion this year and then Sh396.1 billion next year.

Tourism Research Institute has projected this year's arrivals at 2.2 million.

“The projections were informed by global economic factors and Covid recovery patterns. The effects of the Russia invasion of Ukraine on some key markets and on global tourism supply channels was also taken on board,” TRI acting Chief Executive Officer David Gitonga told the Star.

It is based on economically tested tourism prediction models that TRI has acquired, contracted, he added.

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