In their post-Covid recovery plans, East African countries are promoting regional tourism while tapping emerging tourist markets such as China.
Cruise, adventure, culture and sports tourism are niche products expected to spur growth in the sector as countries seek to reduce over-reliance on traditional source markets in Europe and the US, whose economic crisis and travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020 brought the sector to its knees, with massive job losses.
In Kenya, new data from the Ministry of Tourism shows that Uganda has now become the top source of African tourists. The number of tourists from Uganda increased by 88.74 percent to 151,121 in 2022, from 80,067 in 2021.
Tanzania followed with 123,836 visitors while 48,232 arrived from Rwanda, 40,133 from Somalia, 35,760 from South Sudan, 22,291 from Burundi, and finally, 21,428 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Globally, US remained Kenya’s biggest tourist market, with 209,360 visitors. Uganda has overtaken European and Asian markets. A total 131,526 tourists came from the UK, 53,498 (Germany), 35,329 (France), 20,260 (China) and 83,106 from India.
Kenya is shifting focus to promote regional tourism due to uncertainty in the traditional markets.
Focus on specific sectors
“To revamp the sector, our focus from 2023 will include developing strategies that will impact a wider population thus improving Kenyans livelihoods. This will include promotion of regional tourism to enhance performance of the African markets and development of niche products such as cruise tourism, adventure tourism, culture and sports tourism,” said Peninah Malonza, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Tourism.
According to the annual Tourism Sector Performance Report of 2022, Kenya’s total international tourist arrivals grew by 70.45 percent to 1.48 million in 2022, from 870,465 in 2021, with earnings growing by 83 percent to KSh268.09 billion ($2.1 billion), from KSh146.51 billion ($1.15 billion) in the same period in 2021.
Of the 1.48 million tourists who visited Kenya, 43 percent (641,975) were from Africa, mainly for business and to visit family or friends.
Ms Malonza is seeking to increase this number, targeting African tourists.
“Kenya is one of the countries piloting for the Single Africa Air Transport Market, and it will be a big boost to our efforts towards this focus,” the minister said.
Africa has recovered about 65 percent of its pre-pandemic visitor numbers due to easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
This is coupled with relaunch of flights with establishment of new routes, increased frequencies and reopening of international hotel chains.
Kenya is also promoting affordable and accessible travel across the country for free independent travellers. It is argued that such visitors always seek services in local enterprises, including budget hotels, restaurants, shopping areas; use various modes of transport and get immersed in local entertainment as well as cultural activities.
In Kenya, tourism is a major economic sector, accounting for 10.4 percent of the country’s GDP, 5.5 percent of the formal employment and 4.2 percent of the new investments.
In October 2022, Kenya and Uganda signed an agreement to promote regional tourism by jointly promoting beaches and parks in the region. Uganda has sought a partnership with coastal tourism stakeholders to tap into Kenya’s beach tourism.
Variety, variety, variety
As part of the agreement, the two countries resolved to promote beaches and different tourism products on the Kenyan coast and adventure tourism in Uganda as one package, which will not only increase tourist numbers but also create more opportunities for stakeholders.
Kenya’s tourism products on the coast include Fort Jesus, beaches, resorts, marine national parks, elephant sanctuaries, dolphins, slave caves, sacred forests, Vasco Da Gama Fort, white sands, coral reefs, diving and snorkelling.
Uganda offers adventure tourism and culture, with unique safaris, mountain gorillas, rare tree-climbing lions and more than 1,063 bird species.
In Tanzania, the government is eyeing China, aiming to attract the Chinese to visit its historical sites and the wildlife parks.
Marketing and business interventions are targeting about 150 million Chinese tourists travelling outside their country every year.
The newly appointed Tanzanian minister Mohamed Mchengerwa held discussions with the Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania Chen Mingjian seeking to devise joint strategies for tourism. The Tanzania Tourist Board expects 45,000 tourists from China this year.
Mr Mchengerwa said that China alone could hit Tanzania’s target of five million tourists by 2025 banking on the strong Chinese outbound tourist market.
Tanzania targets to raise $6 billion under its Third National Five-Year Development Plan (2021-2026).
This entails prioritizing and implementation of a clear tourism, legal and regulatory framework with strengthening public and private business dialogues and collaboration in tourism marketing, Mr Mchengerwa said.
Key interventions being undertaken include promotion, diversification and development of new tourism sites in southern parts of Tanzania, which have fewer visitors compared with northern Tanzania and Zanzibar.
Tanzania is among eight African countries which have been approved by the China National Tourism Administration in Beijing for Chinese tourists. Others are Kenya, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Mauritius, and Zambia.
Tanzania is currently implementing an aviation agreement with China for Air Tanzania Company Limited to operate direct flights between Dar es Salaam and Guangzhou.
Tanzania Tourist Board signed a memorandum with Touch Road International Holdings Group of China targeting to market Tanzania’s tourism in China.
Reports from the Tanzanian embassy in Beijing said that the current bilateral trade between Tanzania and China is worth about $600 million.