Kenya Tourism arrivals for the year 2016 shot up.
Mombasa was highest with a rise of 22.2 percent compared to the year 2015 with actual figures reaching 92.872 foreign arrivals through Moi International Airport, up from the previous year's 75.983.
In real terms though did Nairobi top coast figures with 782.013 arrivals, a rise of 16.2 percent and up from the 671.789 travelers entering through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in 2015.
A regular source close to the Kenya Tourism Board however shared the challenge cruise tourism continues to pose as numbers for 2016 ended up below those the year earlier with only 2.717 cruise tourists entering through the port of Mombasa.
The building of a new dedicated cruise terminal however, and efforts to associate more closely with the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands, which were hugely successful in 2016 to drive cruise passenger numbers up, appears to be a promising investment and strategy to have such cruises between the islands also call on mainland ports like Mombasa.
Arrivals from the US to Kenya, despite the lack of direct flights, reached 97,883 in 2016, overtaking the UK - as previously stated here - as Kenya's top source country for tourists. This is of particular importance vis a vis revenues as most American visitors come to Kenya for safari holidays and spend a lot more than tourists coming for beach vacations.
The US figure is up by more than 13.000, a sign that marketing Kenya as a premier safari tourism destination has been successful. The UK ended up second in the ranking list with only 96,404 arrivals for the year 2016, down by nearly 2.000 visitors and attributed to the fact that - despite the incentive packages launched by Kenya in early 2016 to stimulate a return of charter flights - not all those flights from the UK were restored.
India surprisingly turned out to become third largest market for Kenya with 64,116 arrivals last year, an increase of over 15.000 visitors compared to the 49,756 in 2015 while Uganda was fourth and leading African country with 51,023 up from 29,038 previously. Many of those visitors from Uganda are thought to be expatriates now taking advantage of Visa free Interstate Passes, inspite of periodic reports that Kenyan immigration officials hassle them.
China is the surprise fifth placed tourism market source and pushed Germany and Italy to position six and seven last year, with 47,860 compared to only 29,790. This rise is attributed to more flights from China to Kenya, both direct and indirect and in particular the Gulf airlines can take credit for this achievements besides national airline Kenya Airways and its main rival Ethiopian Airlines.
Tourists from the Germany in 2016 reached 43.502, up from 38,236 in 2015 but still had to yield the number five spot to China, again thought to be for not all charter flights being revived from that market.
Italy's arrivals climbed at an albeit slower pace to 35,953 compared to 33,415 in 2015 but also remained behind expectations with not enough seats available for Mombasa and in particular the Malindi market.
The South African market in contrast performed much better in 2016, almost catching the Italians with 35,926 arrivals last year compared with 30,500 in 2015.
Easing Visa regulations was seen as a major factor for that sharp rise after the tit for tat spats between the two countries over advance Visa requirements in previous years.
Notably did arrivals from neighbouring Tanzania only very marginally rise, thought to be rooted in the fact that the Tanzanian government had refused to join the East African common tourist Visa implemented between Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and the facilitation of expatriate travel via Interstate Passes, a factor also sharply limiting travel into Tanzania by expats from the wider region who prefer Visa free travel among participating states.
For 2017 though have tourism sources already expressed their misgivings over the negative tone introduced for the upcoming August elections and voiced their concern that, should the rhetoric not be brought to civil levels, this could impact on the recovery of the sector at a crucial time.
'If the elections impact negatively on our sector's performance, it is the level of bad language which we have seen emerge over the past months. If tour operators abroad get scared away, fearing for the worst, is is the fault of our politicians who put themselves and not their country first.
If tourists get worried they stay away or look for alternatives. Jobs have slowly come back in the industry but far too slowly at the coast. Any diversion of tourism flows from Kenya to other countries will reverse our gains.
In fact some charters were put on a wait and see mode and might only resume if we as Kenyans can deliver a clean and peaceful election in August. This is our major challenge for the new year. The Kenya Tourism Board, unlike in the run up to the last elections when government did not give them enough money to run a major marketing campaign in core markets and emerging markets, will no doubt go out and sell the country, but buyers will keep an eye on the upcoming elections.
It is a chicken or egg question and we hope that politics will not get in the way of recovering the ground we lost since 2012' contributed a Nairobi based regular reader of this publication.