Tourists head back to Kenya in record numbers

Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:39am EDT
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By Yara Bayoumy

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A record number tourists visited Kenya in the first six months of 2011, continuing a solid recovery after the country was hit by post-election violence in 2008 and the lingering effects of the global financial crisis.

Tourism Minister Najib Balala said he aimed to aggressively market Kenya as a prime tourist destination to high-spending BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China, to wean the East African country away from traditional source markets.

Arrivals to east Africa's biggest economy rose to 549,083, up 13.6 percent from the same period last year. Tourism earned a record 74 billion shillings ($802 million) in the whole of 2010, making it one of the country's leading sources of foreign exchange.

Balala told a news conference on Wednesday that estimated revenues for the first six months stood at 40.5 billion shillings, up 32 percent from 30.7 billion in the same period last year.

He said the ministry was expecting 20 percent growth in arrivals for the year as a whole, given that arrivals peak in July through to October.

In 2010, a record 1.1 million tourists visited the country, which is famed for its game parks and white Indian Ocean beaches, beating the previous high hit in 2007.

The Ministry of Tourism said visitors from Britain led the way accounting for 14.3 percent of arrivals, followed by the United States on 9.3 percent and then Italy, Germany and India, with the Asian country knocking France out of the top five.

Kenya has been trying to diversify from its traditional American and European source markets, expand its airports and increase bed capacity to boost hard currency earnings from the sector.   Continued...

<p>Tourists gather to view wildebeests (connochaetes taurinus) crossing the Mara river during a migration in the Masaai Mara game reserve, 270 km (165 miles) southwest of capital Nairobi, August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya</p>