However, many countries like Kenya, often view international arrivals as the lifeline of the tourism sector due to the revenue earned through exports and forex, therefore, ignoring or largely underestimating domestic tourism.
This is evident as tourism performances in most countries are quoted mainly in terms of international arrivals and resultant revenue generated. In Kenya, for example, the data available majorly focuses on International Arrivals. Such limited statistics highlighting only international arrivals add to the perception that countries such as Kenya are simply hosting destinations lacking vibrant or significant local tourism.
What we forget is that, in most cases, local tourism keeps the sector afloat in instances where international arrivals are affected. During the 1990s, the number of tourists travelling to Kenya decreased, partly due to the well-publicized murders of several tourists.
Following the controversial 2007 presidential election and the 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis that followed, tourism revenues again dropped by 54 per cent from 2007 in the first quarter of 2008 to reach 8.08 billion shillings (US$130.5 million) from 17.5 billion shillings in January–March 2007 and a total of 130,585 tourists arrived in Kenya compared to over 273,000 that year.
Interestingly, Domestic tourism improved during that period by 45%, earning the tourist sector 3.65 billion shillings out of the 8.08 billion in the period being reviewed.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this was not any different, as the industry faced losses of up to $752m forcing several large hotels to close, leading to over a million job losses and a bruised economy.
According to Statista, the industry contributed 4.2 billion U.S. dollars to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The amount declined by nearly 50 per cent in comparison to 2019 where the value added by the tourism sector to the economy then reached a peak at 8.1 billion U.S. dollars. Due to the outbreak, the number of international arrivals in Kenya declined sharply.
But again local tourism came to the industry’s rescue. Even before the pandemic, Kenya enjoyed a 55 per cent rise in bed night occupancies by domestic tourists between 2014 to 2018, according to official data. The growth has been credited to digital campaigns, growing disposable income among Kenyans, and efforts to promote affordable alternatives to five-star resorts.
This goes to show that there is potential for domestic tourism within African countries. In South Africa for example, 60% of the total frequentation to national parks is by residents while 20% come from other African countries.
In the national parks of Mauritius and Nigeria, 40% and 80% of the visitors are residents respectively. This represents an important tool for regional economic growth and development.
The Kenyan Government has also tried immensely to help the sector return to its past glory. Last year they set aside $5m to support the ailing sector during the pandemic.
The pandemic also opened a new window for domestic tourism as the Ministry of Tourism reduced entry fees to all Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) game parks and reserves for all the locals.
Also, an increase in the number of tours and travel companies to reach about 400, all with friendly travelling packages has seen a demand for domestic tourism.
Additionally, initiatives like Magical Kenya have highlighted some of the beautiful and epic sceneries in the country that many locals didn’t even know existed not forgetting Africa’s growing middle class & its soaring population of young travellers hungry for adventure, and the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free trade area by the number of participating countries, are among the pillars seen supporting the future growth of domestic and regional tourism in the continent.
While travel restrictions continue to threaten the international travel sector there is an opportunity for Kenyans to embrace the new normal and explore what the country has to offer by supporting local leisure tourism.
With all this in mind, it is clear that domestic tourism has shown more resilience to external negative impact than international tourism, the reason it should be given a priority in tourism marketing in Kenya. But is enough being done?
As we celebrate World Tourism Day on Monday, 27th September, we’re hosting a Fireside Chat as we Rethink local tourism. It will be facilitated by Symone Askah, the Community Manager (Karen), and on the panel will be two speakers Amakove Wala of The Wanderlust Diaries and Barbara Schott of Tierranjani Africa.
Date: Monday, 27th September 2021 Time: 3:15 p.m to 4:00 pm Where: Nairobi Garage // The Watermark Business Park, Ndege Road - Karen
The chat will be in line with this year’s World Tourism Theme – “Tourism for Inclusive Development“ as well as sharing ideas on how to effectively communicate and make local travel more attractive post-pandemic.
Amakove Wala is the founder of Wanderlust Diaries, a platform that allows brings together a community of travellers to share stories, authentic reviews and give travel trade a platform to connect, showcase and promote their offerings
Professionally, she is a renowned Medical Doctor (MBChB) and Health Programs Manager with over 15 years of experience in health programs design, management, and implementation. She is a key contributor to the development of several guidelines, health bills, and health sector policies.
Amakove is also an accomplished leader, known and respected for program refinements and building credibility and partnerships with leading national and international health sector stakeholders and Non-Governmental Organizations including the Ministry of Health, county governments, WHO, IFC World Bank, IntraHealth, UNFPA, and GAVI.
Barbara Scott is a co-founder of Tierranjani Africa, a tourism consultancy that she launched with her friend Angela Njehia in 2019.
Through Tierranjani Africa, the duo supports advisory and trained stakeholders in the tourism and travel sector in Kenya and in the wider African context.
With COVID-19, they are also supporting companies and organizations in designing relevant strategy and organizational responses and crisis management.
Barbara has been working in development for over 17 years. Her sector focus lies in regional economic development, SME promotion, and responsible tourism development and sustainability.
She worked in Myanmar for 6 years on various assignments, incl. Community-Based Tourism development, responsible tourism development and planning, local economic development initiatives, and sustainability matters.