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Kenya --Tourism

Kenya's tourist attractions range from safaris through game parks to beautiful beaches on the coast. Until 1969, tourism development had focused on Nairobi's hotels and on its game parks. Subsequently, coastal tourism received increasing attention, and tie-ins between game park and beach stays became more common, attracting visitors from East Africa and from overseas. Kenya's coasts offer intriguing cultural and historical surroundings including picturesque old Arab towns and the ruins of sixteenth-century Portuguese settlements. There are ideal conditions for SCUBA diving and game fishing together with 150 miles of unspoiled beaches protected from sharks by the great coral barrier reef. New cottage-style hotels draw on local architectural styles and decor and offer an international standard of luxury. Most visitors to Kenya, however, continue to come primarily to see its varied wildlife, in particular, the world's largest concentrations of elephant, giraffe, antelope, and zebra. Though hunting safaris have declined since their colonial heyday, restricted game hunting continues to draw enthusiasts. Kenya has an outstanding record among African countries in the protection and development of game parks and lodges.

Tourism has a long-standing tradition in Kenya, and in fact was more well developed there than in any other East African country before independence. After independence, tourism was the fastest growing sector of the nation's economy. Only coffee and tea production brought in more foreign exchange. Income from tourism first exceeded that from coffee in 1989, when a record 730,000 tourists brought in KSh 6,986 million. Between 1990 and 1993, 3.23 million foreign visitors came to Kenya, representing about 5% of the tourist trade in Africa and about 28% of that of Eastern Africa. Tourism is Kenya's largest source of foreign exchange, with gross receipts in 1996 reaching an estimated KSh 25.6bn or $448m. The industry accounts for 19% of the nation's GDP and employs thousands.

Kenya's strategy for developing tourism was to pursue the top end of the global tourist market rather than to promote mass tourism. This strategy has worked well thus far, but over the next few years the industry faces a number of pressing problems. Increasing competition from the Far East and South Africa increasingly draw tourists away. Secondly, since Kenya's tourism industry relies largely on visitors from Europe and America, it is vulnerable to economic fluctuations in those regions. Shortages of accommodation and catering facilities continue to hamper the hospitality industry in Kenya's main tourism areas. Marketing, promotion and servicing are below competitors' standards although private touring companies provide good quality training to their staffs. Poor roads and difficult access continue to pose obstacles. Kenya's government recognizes the importance of maintaining the delicate balance between attracting large numbers of visitors and preserving the natural environment of beaches, forests and savanna; new tourist facilities are being built with this balance in mind. In recent years, tour operators have begun to promote non-traditional attractions including historical sites, bird watching and mountain climbing.

Kenya hosted the 20th annual congress of the US-based Africa Travel Association in 1995 together with the Kenya International Tourism Exhibition (KITE). Addressing the congress, Kenya's Minister for Tourism recognized that the industry was responding to changing patterns of consumer demand and building a platform for multi-destination travel within the region. The government has chosen the policy of letting market forces determine which tourism strategy it will follow over the next decade. It must decide whether to continue to promote luxury tourism, which generates more revenue per day but requires a high proportion of foreign investment, or to pursue mass tourism, which creates more jobs and attracts more foreign exchange but leads to congestion in the parks and on the beaches.[1]

[1] Uwechue, Raph (ed.) 1996. Africa Today, Third Edition, Africa Books Limited, p.870.

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