East African nations of Tanzania and Uganda have overtaken the United States as top source market for Kenya’s tourism industry, following skyrocketing cases of the coronavirus pandemic in US, placing it as a high risk country and forcing many tourists to cancel their trip to the country.
Tanzania edged out the US as Kenya’s leading tourism top source market in September buoyed by its lesser Covid-19 lockdown measures.
Rising virus cases have hampered arrivals from the world’s biggest economy after many countries, including Kenya categorised US travellers as Covid-19 high-risk. This has forced many of them to either cancel or postpone their trips indefinitely.
This comes at a time when its total infection, which is the highest globally, stands at more than 10 million with over 200,000 deaths.
Unlike the US, Tanzania imposed little restraints amid an economic impact caution on its citizens as well as the just concluded presidential campaigns for elections that saw President John Magufuli re-elected for the second term.
Latest data from the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) shows the US trailing Tanzania at number three.
This is a significant jump from August when the country could not even appear among the top 30 source market of visitors to Kenya.
“Tanzania leads with 4, 309 followed by Uganda (3, 812) and US (3, 458),” the data shows.
Uganda too jumped from position three it occupied in August to the second position in September.
South Africa (68), Philippines (70), Ghana (83), Spain (95), Swaziland (110), Turkey (155), Norway (167) and Pakistan (176) are countries where a few tourists visited Kenya.
As a sign of a recovery path following the resumption of both local and international flight in August, September arrivals rose to 85.2 per cent from 14,049 in August to 26, 018.
In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta imposed a dusk-to-dawn (7am to 5am) curfew, banned international and local passenger flights. The President also restricted movement in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kilifi and Kwale counties to contain the spread of the virus.
The directive impacted Kenya’s travel, tourism and hospitality industries. Consequently, many businesses shut down, rendering hundreds jobless.
The data put the purpose of visits as meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions at 44.96 per cent, visiting families and friends 29.90 per cent, holiday 16.50 per cent and in-transit at 5.40 per cent.
“Others are medical (1.61 per cent), education (0.97 per cent), religion (0.53 per cent) and sports (0.13 per cent),” the data shows.
In the mid this year, Tourism Secretary Najib Balala said the ministry would, for the first time, be releasing the data on travel and tourists arrivals every month as the sector slowly reopens after a five-month shutdown.
“The data released is invaluable to the country as it helps us to keep track of international tourist numbers to determine whether tourism and travel are improving since the easing of travel restrictions and the resumption of international flights into the country,” he then said.
Scheduled weekly international flights into Kenya for the Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines stood at 14 each, RwandAir (12), Emirates (seven) and British Airways (four).
Others are Swiss (four), EgyptAir (four), Turkish Airlines (five), Air Arabia (two) and Uganda Airlines (seven), according to the data.
Kenya Airways weekly flight to Dubai leading at nine, Johannesburg (six), London (three), both Paris and Amsterdam (two), and Lagos (two).
“Others include Kigali (seven weekly), Dar es Salaam (seven weekly), Juba (seven weekly) and Addis Ababa (five weekly),” it shows.
This comes when at least 92.4 per cent of Kenyan tour operators have lost 75 per cent of bookings that they normally get during this time of the year as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the global tourism industry.
According to African Safari Company, SafariBooking.com, only 1.2 per cent of them did not record a three-quarter drop in bookings.
According to the report, “71.5 per cent of operators who responded to our survey said that cancellations had increased by at least 75 per cent on existing bookings. Less than four per cent said it was business as usual”.
The survey, which was done in August, involved 344 tour operators in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda.
In June, Mr Balala said the tourism industry lost Sh80 billion in the first six months of the year amid the adverse effects of Covid-19.
The Cabinet secretary said the sector, which contributed about 10 per cent of the GDP, was on its knees mainly due to ban on international flights and movement restrictions that have affected domestic tourism.
“Coronavirus started in December 2019, and we have lost almost Sh80 billion in revenue. This is equivalent to almost half of the revenues we had in the last financial year,” said Mr Balala.
Kenya’s tourism earnings grew by 3.9 per cent to Sh163.6 billion last year as arrivals defied terror threats and global geopolitics to remain above the two-million mark last year.
The earnings improved from Sh157.4 billion in 2018 but were slower than the previous year.
To revive the sector, Mr Balala called upon investors to embrace the domestic market while adding that international tourism would only bounce back towards the end of 2021.
He challenged players in the domestic market to fix the right prices for their products, noting that poor pricing was discouraging Kenyans from taking up the products in the sector.
“Domestic tourism is sensitive to pricing. Why charge a local tourist $30 (Sh30,000) to visit Maasai Mara yet he can use the same amount to go to Dubai?” he posed.