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International arrivals slump in first half of 2021 on Covid curbs

Of the 305,635 arrivals, the institute’s figures show that 94,241came to visit family and friends, 92,828 for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) purposes. 87,629 for holiday, 15,811 were on transit, 8,637 for education, 3,592 for medical purposes, 1,722 for religious purposes, while 1,175 were in country for sports-related affairs.

By Steve Umidha

Foreign tourist arrivals to Kenya slumped in the first half of the year from a year ago as a sharp surge in COVID-19 infections forced the country into lockdown, official data showed on Thursday.

Tourism Research Institute (TRI) said yesterday that just 305,635 foreign visitors stayed in Kenyan hotels between January and June 2021 – the lowest since 2019 when the country welcomed 1.54 million international visitors.

The country’s first lockdown started in March 2020, meaning the subsequent months for the tourism sector were affected by restrictions put in place to curb the virus’ spread.

“We are encouraged by the numbers although we are not there yet. Because this is only a fifth of the two million visitors we received in 2019.

But we understand this is because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued which affected the travel trends this year,” noted Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala in a statement.

According to TRI’s figures, the United States of America (USA) contributed to the largest number of foreign visitors with 225,157 travellers – accounting for 11.12 per cent market share, followed by Tanzania with 10.48 per cent market share.

Other market sources such as the United Kingdom (UK), China and the neighboring Uganda similarly registered impressive figures.

In April this year, the British government barred Kenya among other countries from entering the UK, placing it on its ‘red list’, a decision whose impact was immediately felt in the tourism industry.

That ban was, however, lifted two months later following a dispute from Kenyan authorities and industry stakeholders.

“At the same time, we can see the UK dropped to number 5 due to the effects of the unfair travel restrictions and putting Kenya in the Red list despite our Covid-19 numbers giving a different scenario,” pointed out CS Balala.

Indeed, the sector continues to hurt from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is estimated that the country lost in excess of Sh150 billion in tourism earnings to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 alone, as world’s tourism sector lost at least $1.2 trillion, or 1.5 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), according figures published by UNCTAD on July 1, 2020.

Kenya’s tourism market is one of the leading sources of foreign exchange, earning the country in excess of Sh163.56 billion in 2019, and which had been expected to grow by one percent last year, before the pandemic hit.

The sector contributes 10 percent of Kenya’s annual GDP and employs over two million people. However, restrictions on travel to combat Covid-19 reduced airline travel and accelerated cancellations of hotel reservations.

But most airlines have returned to the skies – albeit cautiously in the hope to recover from the 2020 forfeiture.

The sector was one of the worst hit industries with at least 3.1 million jobs in travel and tourism affected last year, according to data from Kenya Private Sector Alliance, as hotels, bars and restaurants, tour operators, airlines, travel agents and their suppliers and support services recorded low business.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that the country recorded 439,447 visitors last year with arrivals falling to record lows in April, May, June and July at the height of the Covid-19 travel restrictions to hit 2,398, reflecting a fall of 66.5 per cent drop from 500,216 visitors recorded in similar period the previous year.

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