Kenya’s Tourism Statistics – The Numbers Game

We live in the information age, whether it’s  ‘Peeling A Banana: You’ve Been Doing It All Wrong!’ or Biggie Smalls educating us on the fact that “Miami D.C prefers Versache”, something we can all honestly admit we didn’t know. I wonder though how many in the tourism industry use available statistics to steer their businesses? Especially for the smaller to mid-sized businesses and operators for who(m?) resources have to be deployed in the most effective manner possible. I take you through the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics recently released Economic Survey covering the year that was 2015 in Kenya’s tourism with my thoughts and totally unsolicited opinions attached.


Overall Stats

Economic Survey 2016 229 crop pngThat international tourism continued it’s downward trend is no surprise to anyone, this has been the story for a few years now due to factors such as security concerns and the Ebola scare. International arrivals continued the slide between 2014-2015 decreasing by 12.6 % denying us much needed foreign exchange.

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (6)Our major foreign source markets continue to be Germany, United kingdom and Italy. However these numbers continue to drop across the board with Italy showing the biggest drop, by half! Italians ya’ll ain’t loyal. Malindi must be suffering man, this is where destination marketing comes in as opposed to leaving yourself to the mercy of travel agents.
But look how Kenyan locals come through big time (of course you know I had to mention this!) scoring a massive win for all locals, and expats we don’t forget you as well. Through the hard work of a lot of people, both in the government and private sectors as well as on an individual basis have continued to support the #TembeaKenya campaign. A market long ignored by the tourism industry continues to grow surely but steadily year after year. So why would your business continue to ignore them?

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (3)1Here’s something I didn’t know, the average tourist stays for an average of two weeks in the country. This is where regional marketing comes in again as opposed to every tourism operation doing their own thing. How much of those two weeks can you get the visitor to stay in your region/county/establishment? Wonders of Watamu and Discover Lamu have been leading the way in coming together to sell their destination first as opposed to a single hotel and this has been paying of handsomely for them.

Occupancy & Bed Nights

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (4)The occupancy graph above tells me two things. First as traveller the months I’ve highlighted show you the best possible times you can get great rates from places that might ordinarily be out of reach, take note of this.
Secondly, whoever came up with the narrative of ‘high’ and ‘low’ seasons on Kenya is an idiot. Most foreign tourists think that Kenya is closed for six moths of the year, this is just not on. We have a temperate climate here people, things don’t really change that much. The country is open all year round!
Sorry there’s a third, look at those occupancy rates at an average of 30%. Yes tourism has taken a major hit, but when you look at marketing efforts by many establishments especially in the social media space there is so much room for improvement. This partly the reason we the tourism product in Kenya is considered expensive, to remain solvent many places go the route of squeezing every last coin from the few visitors they get instead of looking for ways to increase occupancy.

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (7)By occupied bed nights Kenya’s beach product continues to be hardest hit, we’ve ridden on the ‘beach & bush’ product for too long and it’s come back to bite us in the ass. Must say I’m surprised by Nyanza, not a bad increase at all.
But holy hell Northern Kenya, what are you guys up to over there? Occupancy has more than doubled in the one year, the biggest jump yet. I have it on good authority Northern Kenya (this includes Laikipia) might soon be coming up with a destination product so this might a region to watch in the near future. I really hope the operators in this area buy into regional marketing instead of individual efforts, the power is in numbers.

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (9)I love this chart especially for business owners as it gives a clear indication of who is travelling where. Once again let’s note that Kenyans now account for over 50% of bed nights. Let’s think about that for a minute, over HALF of the ‘bums in beds’ probably belong to someone sitting next to you right now. This is something that was unthinkable a few years ago, I just want to take a moment to all the nay-sayers who told me it could never happen. Haha, hopefully I won’t be eating my words next year…but I doubt it.

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (10)In game lodge occupancy East Africans continue to dominate in the growth sector, doubling in the period 2014-2015 and mitigating the decline by foreign visitors. This decline is party due to competition from neighbouring countries who do not charge V.A.T on entry fees. I am of the opinion our park fees for non – residents are a bit too high, pricing us out of the market.
Another interesting bit is the growth of the self-service in our parks by E.A residents, is this due to rising popularity of camping and self catering accommodation? Of course it is. At the end of the day, the market will choose a value for money product any day, and nothing beats camping as a way especially for young Kenyans to visit this country. Kudos to the many smaller tourism operators I see everyday pushing the camping product.

National Parks & Museums
Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (12)
Even with the large increase in domestic tourism, the total number of people going into our parks continue to be depressed. Hell’s Gate and Longonot continue to improve, once again due to the increase in the hiking and camping option amongst locals. But low park attendance is not good news especially when it comes to matters conservation. Did you know that 80% of Kenya Wildlife Service’s income comes from park fees? So while conservation NGO’s continue to exclude local participation by having gala dinners with prince so-and-so and conduct donation drives in literally ‘any-other-country-except-the-country-we-are-operating-in’, as Kenyans let’s do our part and visit our parks. It’s really that simple.

Tourism-statistics-kenya-1 (14)The National Musem shows a remarkable increase after re-opening after renovations, Fort JKesus continues to be strong as well. However all other sites continue to drop in attendance probably as a result of the low foreign tourism numbers. For Kenyans museums are something  you do in school and thats the end of that, personally I love hanging around the National Museum and the Botanical gardens on a sunny afternoon.

Last Words

So there we have it, thats what’s up in our tourism sector according to KNBS figures.  Domestic tourism continues to grow with lot’s of buy-in from locals and are now a market segment that casnnot to be ignored. As a business owner are you taking advantage of the information available to you? As a marketer are you identifying new trends in your industry and positioning yourself to take advantage of them? Or is it a case of ‘This is what we have been doing, these are our traditional clientèle blah blah blah?’ Same old story expecting different results?

Foreign tourism continues to be shaky and shows we really need to get out there and show the world that we are open for business, but HOW do we do this?  As a country we need to control our narrative by harnessing content creation as one of the pillars of our marketing strategy, not by sweeping the challenges under the carpet but by identifying what is good and special about this country. The social media space is an integral part of this, we need more travel writers, more bloggers more photographers, more film-makers out there telling the Kenyan story.

That image of a Maasai standing under an Acacia tree with the setting sun in the horizon? That’s not going to cut it much longer.

***All information and graphs contained here courtesy of Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. If you want to view the full tourism report click here. Tourism part begins on Page 207.***





25 thoughts on “Kenya’s Tourism Statistics – The Numbers Game

  1. valerieoutram

    Brilliant post! fascinating stats and really well analysed. For someone always on the verge of coming back to Kenya to open something up it is illuminating and refreshing to really see the truth about what is happening in the tourist industry.

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      I hope you soon get off the verge and soon dive in 🙂 One of the problems we have in the industry is too much of a cookie-cutter approach. There is still so much space in the market for someone with the right tourism product.

  2. Sam

    Great analysis. Thank you. Two questions: (1) Why do you exclude the USA from your list of major foreign source markets? (2) What proportion of domestic tourism is concentrated around Easter, Christmas, etc.?

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Thanks Sam. I did not ‘exclude’ USA as one of the major source markets, for comparative purposes I just took the 3 highest, it was not meant as a slight to this market. The info you need as regards the domestic tourism was not represented in this particular batch of stats.

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Mukuhi, asante sana that is always much appreciated. And you’re right there is so much in this country that does not get the exposure it deserves, that is what I try to do. Hopefully I’m succeeding!

  3. Nick Haslam

    Nice piece Kenyan Camper. Stats tell all. I had no idea I was eating a banana so waywardly. What about stats on the growth/decline of low, mid and high-end places, the use of those places by Kenyans vs. foreigners, and the size/type of establishment (corporate vs. resort vs. boutique vs. campsite)?

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Don’t worry Nick, the banana thing had me stumped for years as well. I don’t believe anyone is collecting/collating the stats you mention in that amount of detail as yet, I wish this data was available as well.

  4. Richard Trillo

    Really useful and illuminating analysis. Thank you! There are some worrying figures for conservation in the parks and reserves numbers. No way surely could Samburu National Reserve’s 2015 visitors amount to little more than 20 visitors per day?! I suspect they’re a lot more than that, but these show only the entry fees officially collected. Compare with the KWS managed Meru National Park which has far fewer lodges and is more off the circuit than Samburu.

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Richard, glad you appreciated the article. I agree, the figures presented might not really be totally accurate. Look at the figures for the Impala sanctuary, 2nd most visited annually compared to some of the rest? Hmmm. The larger worry would be that these figures are what are used for strategic planning and management so if they’re off then we might not be using our resources in the most equitable manner. However if the figures are true then what we see on the ground might be worse than originally thought.

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  6. Britt

    Great post!! We are doing an assignment on the tourism situation in Kenya, before we are actually traveling there 🙂 Do you have some links with where you got the numbers for table 13.7, 13.9 and 13.10? It would be much appreciated!

    Kind regards
    The danish students 🙂

  7. Waigwe

    This is a fantastic analysis of the Tourism industry performance. I love your take on regional marketing as opposed to individual efforts by the tourism business community. I think at county level we have failed to capture this vision with the exception of a few counties like Machakos. Hopefully we will wake up from our slumber and start some serious product development and civil education on the importance of participating in domestic tourism. With that said am visiting a museum soon!

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Waigwe, asante sana and I’m glad you liked it. Yes contes like Machakos, Lamu, Turkana and Kisumu seem to have gotten off on the right foot but there is a lot that remains to be done. There is still a lack of capacity when it comes to tourism marketing and navigating the social media space.

    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      This is the same problem in many other counties all over the country – there is a big problem when it comes to marketing of tourism sites. On another note I hope to visit Bungoma one day.


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