UK tourists more sensitive to travel warnings than Americans

tourismDespite the United Kingdom issuing fewer travel advisories than the US in the last five years, visits to Kenya by British tourists have fallen faster than visits from Americans, an investigation byNation Newsplex reveals.

While it is frequently stated that international visitors intending to come to Kenya get discouraged by travel advisories concerning Kenya or parts of Kenya, analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) proves that that issuance of travel advisories has varying effects on tourist arrivals depending on the country that issues them.

According the Global Terrorism Index 2014, Kenya is the 12th country most impacted by terrorism in 2013. Between 2011 and 2014 incidents of terrorism in Kenya increased almost two-fold, deaths went up almost seven-fold and injuries nearly tripled.   Over the same period, the national hotel occupancy rate fell by over 20 per cent.

Visits from the United States continue to rise albeit at a slower pace every year.  While overallvisits from the US increased by 16 per cent from 254,000 in 2010 to 294,000 in 2014, much of that increase happened in 2011. Visitor arrivals increased by three per cent in 2012 and one per cent in 2013, but stayed unchanged in 2014.

Over this five-year period, eight travel advisories were issued by the US government. The IEA analysis suggests the plateauing of the numbers may have been due to the unprecedented issuance of three US travel advisories in the second quarter of last year.

To ascertain the origin of the international visitors to the country, IEA and Newsplex used hotel bed–night occupancy as a strong proxy for tourism.

Unlike Americans, Britons seem to respond to travel advisories issued by their government without fail. This has had a significant impact in the overall number of tourists visiting the country because British tourists, until recently, constituted the largest number of visitors to Kenya.

In 2010 about 965,000 visitors from the UK travelled to Kenya, a number that began to plummet following a series of attacks by Somalia’s Al Shabaab Islamists in the past three years. Kenya Nation Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows that visitors to Kenya from the UK fell almost in half from 498,000 in 2013 to 275,000 in 2014. The drop follows a four year trend that saw the country lose its top slot as the premier source of tourists to Kenya to Germany which climbed to the top slot in 2012.


The dramatic decline coincided with an increase in the frequency of travel advisories published by the UK Government. It is clear that a strong negative relationship exists between the issuance date of a UK travel advisory and the occupancy rate for beds in Kenya by UK citizens.

According to IEA, this strong relationship is revealed by the fact that travel advisories in the first and fourth quarters of 2011 and quarter and the second and third quarters of 2014 were followed by sharp declines in the of number of UK visitors staying in hotels.

The sharp drop in visitors from the UK can be partially explained by the fact that charter airlines, which bring many British tourists on holiday, are unwilling to cover travel to a country where the government advises against all but essential travel.  For instance, charter flights from Europe to Mombasa plummeted to four a week, from 40 a week in the peak period of 2011.

Over the last four years, Italy recorded the largest drop in visitors to Kenya at 76 per cent, followed by the UK (71 per cent), France (66 per cent) and Japan (five per cent) according to KNBS data.

Chinese visitor arrivals have increased by 82 per cent from 51,000 in 2010 to 92,000 in 2014 enabling the country to replace India in 2012 as the top source market for tourists from Asia.

However, those looking East shouldn’t pop the champagne just yet, given that the increase actually happened from 2010 to 2011, then dropped for two consecutive years.

In 2013, the number of tourists from China fell by seven per cent to 106,000 from 114,000 the previous year. The downward trend continued last year when the number fell by 13 per cent.

Germany and Scandinavian countries present a more positive picture. The number of visitors from Germany rose by a third from about 563,000 in 2010 to 752,000 last year making the country Kenya’s top tourists source market for the third year running,  while the number of visitors from Scandinavia climbed by  43 per cent from about 84,000 in 2010 to 120,000 last year.

But even with the dwindling numbers of tourists from the region, Europe remains Kenya’s main source market for tourists with almost 60 per cent of visitors to Kenya last year coming from the region.


Since reaching a peak in 2011, tourism earnings and contribution to employment and GDP has been on a downward trend.  The sharp dip in the sector coincides with a steep spike security challenges, including security attacks.

According to data from the Kenya Economic Survey of 2009 and 2015, tourist arrivals to Kenya dropped by a quarter between 2011 and 2014. During the same period tourism earnings dropped by 11 per cent from Sh98 billion to Sh87 billion.

Statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council show that the sector’s contribution to GDP and employment shrunk significantly.  In 2011 the total contribution of tourism to GDP was 12 per cent but that shrunk to 10.9 per cent in 2014. Four years ago, one out of nine jobs (633,000) were created by tourism but in 2014 one out of 10 jobs (588,000) were created by tourism.

The slump in the tourism sector continued in the first half of 2015, before picking up in the last month of the second quarter, when the British government lifted advisories against Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale counties.

In June, foreign visitors arrivals to Kenya through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport increased by 33 per cent over the same period the previous year. But it must remembered that the third and fourth quarters are peak tourism seasons, as they correspond to the summer and Christmas holidays.

The news was a relief to businesses that directly benefit from tourism who have been hard hit by the slump like the hotel industry. Yet overall, foreign visitor arrivals through both airports fell by 18 per cent, from 608,316 to 496,519 from January to August in 2015, compared to the same period last year.


The coastal region leads in the absolute number of visits by foreigners.  It is followed by Nairobi at a distant second. Worth noting is that whereas the occupancy in the Coastal region has gone down considerably from 2012, that of Nairobi has largely been stagnant for the entire five-year period.

The biggest drop in hotel occupancy was witnessed in non-high class hotels at the Coast (66 per cent), followed by non-high class hotels in Nairobi at 26 per cent, hotels located in Coast beach areas (20 per cent) and Nairobi High class at 3 per cent).

Increased occupancy was recorded in the Coastal Hinterland (62 per cent), Northern region (39 per cent), Nyanza Basin (18 per cent), Western (16 per cent) and Maasailand (15 per cent), while occupancy of hotels in Central region has not changed.

The numbers of visitors to National parks and Game reserves have been on a downward trend in the last year except for Maasai Mara that witnessed a significant improvement of 20 percent, Mt Elgon (17 per cent). Impala Sanctuary in Kisumu (13 per cent) and Samburu (8 per cent).

Parks and game reserves in the Coast region witnessed the worst decline in visits with Tsavo East being the worst hit with a 60 per cent drop, from about 268,000 to 103,000 visitors.

NEW POSSIBILITIES                                           

It looks like Kenya should sell itself more to the US, Germans, Scandinavians, Chinese and Africans whose desire to visit does not seem to be diminished by negative travel advisories. And to counter the travel advisories that specifically target the Coast maybe Kenya should sell inland locations such as Mara, attractions in the Rift Valley and Maasai Mara.

Efforts to promote local tourism, like the Beautiful Kenya section in the Daily Nation which reveals the diverse attractions loved by Kenyans and tourists alike, should be enhanced.

But ultimately the only way to increase the number of visitors to Kenya is to improve the security situation.




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