Obama’s And Pope’s Visits Fail To Jumpstart Tourism In Kenya

Obama’s And Pope’s Visits Fail To Jumpstart Tourism In Kenya

(Corrected to Indicate ‘Pope Francis’ and Not ‘Pope John’ In Lede)

Visits by U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis last year failed to jumpstart the number of tourists choosing Kenya as a destination and tourism numbers are likely to remain subdued in coming months as effects of terrorist attacks continue to hurt the industry.

Kenya posted a decrease in visitors in 2015 despite Obama’s “homecoming” in July and the Pope’s visit in October, Kenya’s Tourism Minister, Najib Balala, told Reuters. The country will continue to struggle for the foreseeable future with recovery estimated to be 2018 at the earliest.

Tourism is a leading foreign exchange earner for East Africa’s largest economy.

According to data released by the Ministry of Tourism, the country received 748,771 tourists in 2015, a 13 percent drop from the 861,396 visitors in 2014. It however didn’t say how much revenue was raised from these visits.

The country’s tourism earnings have been on a steady decline of about 2 percent each year since 2011, when they hit a record high of $1.1 billion, Oxford Business Group reported.

In 2014, earnings were $958 million, an 11 percent drop from the total earnings in 2011.

The drastic fall in foreign tourists has been attributed to travel advisories issued by the U.S., Britain, and France, which contribute the biggest chunk of tourists to Kenya.

The U.S. and Britain account for more than two third of the international tourists visiting the country each year.

Obama’s and the Pope’s visit last year were expected to show that Kenya was a safe destination following several attacks by Al Qaeda-linked Somalia-based Al Shabaab Islamic militants since 2011.

Terrorism is the major threat to tourism in Kenya but there are also infrastructural issues that impeded its growth.

“Access to our tourism facilities such as Masai Mara Game Reserve and Diani, for example, have become headache to tourists owing to poor roads leading to Sekenani gate and access through Likoni ferry,” Balala said.