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Kenya hits 1m tourist mark again

NAIROBI, Kenya Mar 7- Kenya\’s tourism sector recorded 1.1 million tourist arrivals in 2010 representing a 15 percent growth for the industry from 952,481 tourists in 2009.

This is the second time the industry has surpassed the one million mark – the other year being in 2007 in which slightly over one million tourists arrived in Kenya.

Releasing the results, Tourism Minister Najib Balala attributed the growth to diversification of source markets to countries such as Russia, India, China and Japan that reinforced the traditional markets.

"Last year we changed our strategy to open up new markets and all these markets have done very well," Mr Balala said.

Consequently, the sector raked in Sh73.6 billion in earnings for the economy representing 18 percent growth from 2009\’s figure of Sh62.46 billion.

The earnings were however below the Ministry of Tourism projections of Sh100 billion.

Mr Balala however said the said that the earnings were encouraging having surpassed 2007\’s figures of Sh65.4 billion.

Tourism is one of the country\’s key economic drivers accounting close to 11 percent of the national GDP.

The United Kingdom accounted for 15 percent of all arrivals at 174,051 tourists, followed by the United States at 107,842, Italy 87,694 tourists and Germany at 63, 011 tourists.

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The minister however said that there is need for more efforts from the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) to position the country as a high value destination to make it more appealing to high spending tourists.

"India is becoming a force to reckon with and will be closely monitored by KTB as performance has improved year on year accounting for 4.5 percent of tourist arrivals. The Indians are also turning out to be high spenders," Mr Balala said.

As a result, the minister said the country would continue to focus on new source markets as a way of diversifying the arrivals.

New markets such as India, China and the UAE will play a significant role in growing earnings and arrivals in the coming years.

The tourism industry\’s growth was checked following effects of the post election violence in early 2008. This was followed by the global financial crisis, which further dented progress in the tourism sector with key source markets such as the UK and US.

This saw KTB undertake aggressive marketing campaigns over the last three years helping the country get back on track.

KTB is also going to be looking capitalise on the crisis in North Africa, especially Egypt, to re-route tourists to Kenya to grow the sector even further.

However, tiring tourism products continue to place a major hurdle towards growing the sector further.

Citing beach tourism as an example, Mr Balala said the countries beach products were tired and poorly managed.

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He said the sub-sector lacked serious investors willing to develop major hotels and improve the image of the coast.

"It is high time we give incentives to multinational chains who know how to run and manage hotels so that they can invest more," he said.

He said plans were underway to transform Mombasa into a business and conference tourism destination, and concentrate beach tourism around Malindi and Kilifi.

Mr Balala also said other challenges such as poor infrastructure development, lack of security in some areas and inadequate incentives for developers as reasons why the country was lagging behind.

The Minister said he would meet with Treasury and Kenya Investment Authority officials to discuss the formulation of an Incentive Code for the sector to spur investment in the tourism sector.

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