Kenya’s domestic tourism market resilient despite al-Shabaab attacks

While Kenya’s tourism players are still pessimistic on whether the sector will be able to surpass last year’s earnings of Ksh.98 billion (US$1.2 billion), attention has shifted to growing the domestic market, which is deemed to be more resilient.

Several countries have issued travel warnings against Kenya following the kidnapping of tourists in Lamu last year, which prompted Kenya’s incursion into Somalia that has led to retaliatory attacks on Kenyan soil by the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab.

A spot check in Kenya’s coastal towns of Mombasa, Malindi, Diani and Watamu revealed full bookings in hotels and other accommodation facilities for the recent Easter holidays.

“I have had several cancellations from Europe where customers expressed fears over their security after the latest grenade attack. However, business is still booming. Right now we cannot get accommodation facilities because most hotels are fully booked and more people are still making enquiries,” said Shiku Kimani, manager of Pumba Tours and Travel.

Nixon Ooko, operations director of low-cost airline Fly540 told How we made it in Africa that the airline’s Mombasa and Malindi routes were fully booked for last Friday, with 90% of the bookings having been made by locals.

Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort general manager, Mohamed Hersi said the hotel was fully booked for Easter, with 60% of the bookings being local.

“As a hotel we are tapping into the local and regional market. We are putting efforts into increasing bookings from Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and even South Sudan. We are, however, still keen on the international market. I think we should spread ourselves,” said Hersi.

Agatha Juma, the chief executive of the Kenya Tourism Federation, a private sector led lobby group, explains that while Lamu’s forward bookings were affected after the kidnapping of a tourist last year, local and international tourists are again starting to visit the island.

“The domestic market is growing due to a lot of reasons. First the middle class is growing fast. Holiday makers share photos and experiences on social media and this has created more interest among Kenyans to visit the country’s tourist attractions. Investment in more affordable accommodation facilities has also helped,” said Juma.

Pumba Tours and Travel’s Shiku Kimani is, however, unsure about the future. “Moving forward I am bit worried that we might not get international bookings. The domestic market is growing but it is only vibrant during special occasions like Valentine’s Day, safari rally competitions and Easter and Christmas holidays,” said Kimani.

Sam Ikwaye, Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers executive officer for the Coast region, noted that while operators are looking forward to a very busy season this month, more effort should be put into marketing campaigns both locally and internationally.

“If a country like Egypt can survive then so should we. The government has already put security mechanisms in place. We should improve the infrastructure and design favourable packages for both the local and regional markets,” said Ikwaye.