Domestic tourists cut their holiday expenditures by 37.5 percent last year, a new industry report shows, coming on the back of massive job losses and pay cuts as companies reduced operating costs amid liquidity challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Data from the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) shows that the average expenditure on package trips fell from Sh44,043 in the pre-Covid period to Sh27,545 during the pandemic.
Spending on recreational activities fell the most at 22 percent followed by food and drinks (13 percent), transport (10 percent) and accommodation (five percent).
This was a big blow to hotels, which hoped to ride on domestic tourism to cover the loss of income due to the restrictions and bans in international travel during the pandemic.
The minister’s sentiments came after the global arrivals fell to 47,296 in March 2020, from 119,670 in the previous month, and have continued to remain subdued in subsequent months despite the gradual easing of lockdown globally.
Early this year, the TRI estimated that it would take another three years before arrivals in Kenya rebound to the pre-Covid levels, pointing to prolonged pain for the tourism sector.
The institute said it expects international visitors to hit 2.2 million in 2024, slightly surpassing the 2.1 million visitors in 2019 when the industry experienced one of its best years.
“I challenge Kenyans to seek out new tourism offerings as they deliver a rich and unique experience. It’s high time we looked beyond what we are conventionally used to and discover these hidden gems spread across the country,” said Mr Balala last year.
The call, however, seems to have yielded little in terms of boosting expenditures at hotels, animal parks and heritage sites.
According to TRI, several factors have led to this, primary among them a fall in the amount of time Kenyans are willing to spend away on holiday.
The average number of nights domestic tourists spent in hotels and lodges dropped to two during the Covid-19 period from four nights previously.
Similarly, accommodation choices for hotels, guesthouses, campsites and motels dropped by nine percent, five percent, two percent and one percent, respectively. Others that recorded declines included game viewing/driving (10.1 percent), followed by hiking (7.1 percent) and shopping (4.7 percent).
The periodic lockdowns targeting certain counties have also not helped the tourism sector, especially the first one that restricted travel into and out of Mombasa and Kwale, which are the top domestic tourism destinations for Kenyans looking to enjoy the beach.
Nairobi has also been affected by two lockdowns, which effectively grounded domestic air travel due to its hub status. The county is also a key source market of domestic tourists — hosting a large share of middle-class Kenyans willing to travel.
Number of visitors
Most domestic tourists were from Nairobi (51 percent), followed by Mombasa (12.3 percent), Kiambu (6.3 percent), Kisumu (2.8 percent), Nakuru (2.6 percent) and Kajiado (2.6 percent).
Counties supplying the lowest number of visitors are Meru (1.1 percent), Makueni (1.2 percent), Busia (1.2 percent), Uasin Gishu (1.2 percent), Taita Taveta (1.3 percent) and Narok (1.4 percent).
Coastal towns of Mombasa, Kilifi and Narok, which hosts the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, mostly felt the plunge in tourist traffic.
“Lockdowns and prohibited travel across the counties have forced us not to sell any local travel to the Maasai Mara, Mombasa, Malindi and regional destinations,” said Felistus Muindi of Oakland Tours and Safaris.
Consequently, in the six months to December 2020, Mombasa and Narok recorded a steep decline in internal revenue collections.
Controller of Budget data showed that Narok’s internal revenues fell by Sh1.56 billion in the period under review. The county felt the effect of a slump in tourist numbers to the Maasai Mara. The county raised a paltry Sh334.4 million in own-source revenue in the period from Sh1.89 billion a year earlier. Mombasa posted a drop of Sh403.2 million to earn Sh1.08 billion compared to Sh1.48 billion a year earlier.
In addition to State-led actions affecting domestic tourism, the coronavirus has also meant that people have to adjust their social behaviour to protect themselves against infection.
The TRI Kenya Domestic Tourism Survey 2020 found Kenyans prefer travelling with friends and colleagues to doing so alone or with families.
Therefore, with the pandemic reducing the opportunity or socialise, many Kenyans isolated themselves within family units, affecting the travel opportunities.
The survey sampled 1,480 respondents across various tourist destinations.
The survey also found that hotels are losing out to newer and more cost-effective accommodation options due to tighter pockets.
Those who travelled during the Covid period sought accommodation from friends, relatives, resorts and Airbnb rose by five percent, four percent and one percent, respectively.
The TRI report urges the hotels and government to improve the domestic travel experience through better pricing, product (package) development and infrastructure upgrades to compete effectively. They should also ramp up marketing and promotion to tap new markets and customers.
“Create awareness through advertisements (local and international media), social media and other online platforms, schools, print media, government institutions, brand ambassadors and also the utilisation of all available platforms for a wider reach including rural areas,” said the TRI.
“Upgrade the facilities to international standards, improve the infrastructure like the park roads and normal roads as well as roads and telecommunication networks for ease of access to local tourist sites and improve on security in the country,” the report adds.
Earlier this month, the government allocated Sh2.3 billion to the tourism sector to help it recover from the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus.
The Treasury allocated Sh1.7 billion to the Tourism Fund and Sh643 million to the Tourism Promotion Fund to help lift the sector battered by the effects of the pandemic, which restricted travel.