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Tourism sector nears pre-pandemic peak

Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage Cabinet Secretary (CS) Peninah Malonza is optimistic that the tourism industry will grow this year and surpass the pre-COVID-19 pandemic period.

Malonza expressed confidence that, despite the recent setbacks caused by the global pandemic, the tourism industry is on the rebound and that air travel will play a vital role in the full recovery.

She said Kenya must adapt to the new normal and implement robust measures to ensure the well-being of visitors and our citizens. Consequently, collaborative efforts between the government, travel agents, airlines, and other stakeholders are essential to restore travelers’ confidence and position Kenya as a safe and desirable destination, she noted.

“The positive trajectory we have witnessed in air travel in Kenya, with flights at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) reaching 100 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels of 2.4 million tourists, gives us reason to be optimistic about further recovery by the end of this year,” the CS said. She added that the projection of the ministry is to reach 5 million foreign tourists in the next five years.

Malonza was speaking when she officially opened the Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) 2023 Annual Convention and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Naivasha on Friday. The function is being attended by travel agents, tour operators, aviation experts, and other industry stakeholders.

She said Kenya, as a nation blessed with breath-taking tourism experiences including landscapes, diverse wildlife, and a rich cultural heritage, stands ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges presented by the global tourism market.

“As the world gradually opens up, we must therefore applaud the impressive sales performance by Kenya travel agents, whose commitment and resilience have sustained the industry and driven its recovery. Their expertise has played a pivotal role in cultural heritage, diverse wildlife, and breath-taking landscapes and can offer not only breathtaking nature but also all other amenities,” said the CS.

Malonza was full of praise for the local tourism sector, which she said helped sustain Kenya`s tourism sector during the lockdown period as Kenyans visited various destinations in the country.

The CS revealed that out of 5.5 million visitors who toured various tourist sites in Kenya in the post-COVID period, 3.5 million were local tourists.

Tourism in Kenya is the second-largest source of foreign exchange revenue, hot on the heels of the agriculture sector, which earns Kenya about 70 per cent of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to data from the Ministry of Tourism released in March this year, Kenya’s international tourist arrivals in 2022 were 1,483,752 which represents a 70.45 per cent increase as compared to 2021 arrivals of 870,465. The income earnings grew to Sh268.09 billion compared to Sh146.51 billion in 2021, when Kenya was still in the jaws of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a growth of 83 per cent.

Kenya has been considered an attractive tourist destination for decades. With over two million tourists annually, the country has long since adapted to foreign guests.

To restore and build traveler confidence in Kenya, Malonza called for collaboration with other stakeholders, as they will focus on rebuilding capacity and capabilities for safe and seamless travel experiences for our visitors.

“Strengthening air links, adopting liberal aviation policies, and fostering regional and global connectivity are vital steps. It is also imperative to invest in the growth and training of our professionals, as it ensures that Kenya remains at the forefront of tourism innovation,” Malonza said.

The CS also observed that collaboration between her Ministry and travel agents is paramount because, while the Ministry develops policies and strategies to attract tourists, it is through partnerships with travel agents that they can effectively market Kenya and create tailored tourism packages by tapping into niche markets, identifying emerging trends, and catering to different traveler segments to enhance the travelers’ experience and promote Kenya as a must-visit destination.

To this end, she said they were actively working to improve “our aviation infrastructure, expand our airport capacities, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our air travel services”.

Malonza noted that in promoting Kenya’s niche, the government remains committed to providing support to travel agents and tour operators, who played a vital role in promoting Kenya as a must-visit destination and show.

“Embracing new technological tools and innovation has been a hallmark of our industry, from virtual tours to contactless services, and by staying at the forefront of innovation, we can offer inspirational and memorable experiences to travelers,” the CS said.

By Mabel Keya – Shikuku

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