NAIROBI, Kenya (eTN) – Kenya’s tourism players are concerned that the sector may not recover fully this year following turmoil in global financial markets and political disturbances in the destination early last year.
A spurt in December 2008 that saw hotels at the Kenyan coast fully booked over Christmas and New Year festivities by both local visitors and international tourists renders little hope of recovery.
Players in the sector say a fall out from the sub-prime mortgage market in the US and Europe, the country’s traditional source markets, is expected to impact negatively on leisure travel. Ongoing recovery efforts following violence that scared tourists in the first quarter of 2008 are also yet to pay full dividends.
In case the fears are realized, rising tourist numbers from the rest of Africa and from the Far East, particularly China, might not meet the deficit.
The year 2007 recorded the country’s highest number of visitors ever, variously estimated by the government and by the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) as ranging from 1.7 to 1.8 million visitors. Most hotels were fully booked for Christmas and New Year holidays long before the beginning of December 2007.
However, tourists fled the country in droves at the beginning of 2008 following violent political clashes that saw hundreds of Kenyans killed soon after the December 27, 2007 General Election, which resulted in presidential results being disputed. But no tourists were hurt during the skirmishes, which were largely concentrated in Western Kenya regions of Nyanza and Rift Valley and in poor neighborhoods of Nairobi.
As a result, tens of tourist establishments cut down on operations, closed most wings of hotels and lodges, and retrenched thousands of workers.
By April last year, tourists had begun to troop back to their favorite beaches on the Kenyan coast. Despite gallant marketing efforts by the KTB, the numbers remained elusive.
Widespread job losses were also reported in the lucrative tourism sector due to massive tour cancellations following the upheaval.
According to the Kenyan Bureau of Statistics’ latest economic report, the tourism sector declined 34.7 percent over most of last year. The KTB itself estimates tourist arrivals between January and October last year shrunk 35.2 per cent, from 873,00 t0 565,000. Updated figures from the KTB are expected to be released by next month.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Association chief executive officer Mike Macharia, told reporters last month that the situation is not likely to improve in 2009 either. “As at December 2007, we used to receive 41 chartered flights weekly in Mombasa. After the election violence, we hardly received three. Today, we are receiving about 11,” Macharia told the Daily Nation a few days before Christmas last year.
He blamed the violence for the declined in tourism. “When flight plans are changed, the concerned agents usually started to market new destinations. That is not we are not envisaging a recovery any time soon,” he added.
However, the KTB is optimistic that the sector will recover as a result of aggressive marketing and economic recovery in tourist source markets affected by the global financial crunch.