US, Uganda, Tanzania top as Kenya’s tourist sources

Thursday January 20 2022
Tourists at a park.

Tourists at a park.


Uganda and Tanzania continue to be major tourist sources for Kenya after the United States of America (USA) as the country registered a 53.29 percent growth in 2021, following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

This comes even as the tourism industry recorded a 34.76 percent increase in revenue, which translated to $1.46 billion, compared to $885 million recorded in 2020.

According to latest data released by the Tourism Research Institute, last year, Kenya received 870,465 tourists compared to 567,848 in 2020.

In the period between January to December 2021, USA topped as the major tourist source for Kenya with 136,981 followed by Uganda (80,067), Tanzania (74,051) while the United Kingdom and India were fourth and fifth tourist sources for Kenya with 53,264 and 42,159 visitors, respectively, coming in.

In the total arrivals, holiday tourist arrivals were 299,802 accounting for 34.44 percent followed by those visiting their families at 257,357 (29.57 percent), while 229,804 visitors were registered as those who visited the East African country for business, and for Meetings, Incentives, Exhibitions, and Conferences (MICE). Another 46,654 (5.36 percent) people were recorded as being on transit.

Only 19,053 visitors (2.19 percent) came to Kenya for education purposes and only 1 percent came for medical treatment.


Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said tourist arrivals was also boosted by Kenya’s decision to host major sporting events, specifically the WRC Safari Rally and the World Athletics Under 20, which helped to rebuild confidence on destination Kenya.

“We have a strategy of future growth and one of them is to ensure we expand and modernise Kenya’s aviation industry and equip our main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, with modern international facilities that delivers an efficient and friendly customer experience; and expand Ukunda and Malindi Airports which are key for international tourist arrivals,” said Mr Balala.

He further attributed the strong growth in tourism to renewed marketing efforts to promote Kenya as a magical destination; its efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic; and innovative products offered to both domestic and international markets by major players, mainly hotels and domestic airlines.

“Apart from that, we need to develop our MICE facilities with ultra-modern convention centres with adequate capacities to tap markets which have shown potential to growth such as France, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Iran, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium.” 

JKIA remains the major point of entry with 644,194, followed by Moi International Airport with 48,749. Other entry points served 177,522 visitors.

“The numbers are still low, but we are optimistic that we will eventually go back to our all-time high international visitor arrivals, that is 2019, or even surpass it. This is because majority of our masses are vaccinated and international visitors will have faith in our destination again,” said Mr Balala.

In January to September 2021, the bed occupancy rates increased to a total of 4,138,821 as compared to the same period in 2020 (2,575,812) recording a recovery of 60.7 percent.

Covid-19 caused a greater impact to the tourism sector with the industry recording about 1.18 million job losses with about $1.52 billion labour income loss.

Of the 1.18 million jobs lost, 295,000 served in the accommodation department, 162,000 (food and beverage), 216,000 (passenger transport), 24,000 (attraction sites) and 486,000 (artefacts). 

CS Balala attributed the loss to low occupancy, cancelled trips, and disruptions to foreign and local travel, which saw several hotels go out of business.

This sustained recovery of the hospitality sector was largely supported by Domestic Travellers with domestic bed nights growing by 101.3 percent while international bed nights grew by 0.05 percent.

The CS said the spread of the Delta variant suppressed growth in the tourism sector in the first quarter of 2021 however, there was steady growth from June to December 2021.

Mr Balala said the country is projecting to increase passenger flight landings from the current 59,486 in 2020 to 70,193 this year and visitor arrivals from 870,467 to 1.02 million tourists this year despite challenges brought about by the August General Election.