After the post-election crisis and subsequent tourism slump earlier this year, the Kenyan tourism industry is waiting with bated breath for positive spin-off effects from last week’s US elections.
An outbreak of violence early 2008 resulted in a major slump in Kenya’s tourism industry, contributing to a 30 per cent loss in the third quarter tourism earnings. This badly hurt the east African nation’s economy, where tourism is traditionally the country’s second largest hard currency earner and contributes greatly to east Africa’s biggest economy.
The government quickly formed a coalition to contain the outbreak and appease Kenyan citizens. Since then, the country has been restored to its original state of peace and stability, yet the tourism industry is still working hard to encourage tourists back to the country.
In 2007, Kenya earned $620 million in the third quarter from tourists drawn to its white beaches and adventurous game parks. Officials expect this year’s total earnings will reach only $665 million, representing a 23 per cent decline in earnings. This quarter, Britons made up the biggest number of visitors with 42,763 arrivals, while the United States and Italy were second and third with 25,000 and 13,000 respectively. During the first nine months of this year, 25,000 Americans visited Kenya, which is down from more than 100,000 in 2007, according to the KTB.
Last week, Kenyans heartily celebrated Barack Obama’s victory with visions of hope for their country; it is hoped his family ties to the country will not only positively influence America’s foreign policy in the region, but also raise the profile of Kenyan tourism in America and around the world.
“This is a momentous day not only in the history of the United States of America, but also for us in Kenya. The victory of Senator Obama is our own victory because of his roots here in Kenya. As a country, we are full of pride for his success,” Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in a statement.
The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) said it would be capitalising on the President-elect’s Kenyan heritage, who was born to a white American mother and a Kenyan father from Kogelo, a small rural village in western Kenya.
“We’ll be looking at our strategy for marketing so that we give greater attention to the U.S. market to respond to the greater attention and interest being shown,” Jake Grieves-Cook, chair of the KTB, told Reuters.
“It has very positive implications for tourism. Kenya now is in the spotlight internationally. We are bound to see an increased interest in Kenya,” he added.
Since Obama’s election victory, Kogelo has revelled in immediate upgrades to electricity and roads, while Obama’s grandmother has had tightened security at her home. It is expected that Americans visiting Kenya would now include the small town in their holiday itinerary.
Nationals from the USA (and the European Union) need to apply for a 90-day temporary Kenyan visa to visit the country. Although visitors from these countries can buy temporary visas at the port of entry to Kenya, it is recommended to applying before travelling to the country is recommended to avoid the risk of being denied a visa, as some applications can be rejected at customs.