Nairobi: The number of tourists to Kenya grew 16.1 per cent in the first four months of the year, with players upbeat that the growth momentum will be held to the end of the year, a signal that the sector could reclaim its spot as Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earner. Figures released by Tourism minister Najib Balala show that arrivals rose to 390,148 from 336,179 recorded in the same period a year earlier. The sector is also benefiting from a weaker shilling that has dropped from a high of Sh83 to the dollar in March to Sh91.90 last Wednesday.
'The main reason behind this growth is aggressive marketing, opening of new markets, and recovery of Germany. Of course the weak shilling will increase interest, but I don’t believe that this is the main reason for the growth in tourist arrivals since it is temporary,' Mr Balala said.
'A weak shilling can be good for one sector of the economy, but not necessarily the entire economy and the people of Kenya. A balance is necessary,' he said. Mr Balala also said that cruise tourism was showing signs of recovery after the sector was bogged down by rising cases of piracy in the Indian Ocean. 'We have a deficit of Sh300 million in marketing and we may be forced to redraw our marketing strategy if this shortfall is not met,' said Mr Balala.
Last year, tourism earned the country Sh73.7 billion driven by the higher number of visitors which reached 1.6 million. The sector could fetch Sh80.6 billion this year.
The government is also banking on the tourism sector to support the six per cent growth forecast which has since been downgraded to 4.5 per cent by the Planning ministry, citing high energy coat and drought. However, this growth outlook will be far below the three million tourists that Planning minister Wycliffe Oparanya said the country needed in the medium term to support growth prospects.
The sector has recovered after it was hit by the in 2007 post-election violence and the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, which hurt arrivals. 'These figures could be more if we managed to capture tourists coming in through our borders and stopped relying on figures from airports which are easy to get,' he said.
Mr Balala also announced the elevation of Fort Jesus to a World Heritage Site status recognised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization- UNESCO, raising the country’s clout as a tourist destination.