Tourism is one of the main foreign exchange earners for Kenya. The country’s tourism industry depends largely on natural attractions such as beaches, mountains, forests and scenic landscapes. About 10 percent of the country’s landscape has been set aside for wild life conservation and bio diversity which are the main stay of the country’s tourism. In particular, game viewing is a very popular pursuit with the interest focused on “the big five” namely the elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and the leopard.
The main regions where tourism thrives are the Coast, Rift Valley and parts of western Kenya. The sector provides employment to thousands of people both directly and indirectly in such areas as game parks, hotels, tour operators, transport and others.
But it has since over come the challenges, improved its performance.
It has a multiplier effect which contributes to the general government revenue collection and the over all social economic growth of the country. In addition, tourism also plays a leading role in wealth creation as well as in poverty alleviation.
The Ministry of Tourism and Wild life is responsible for the management of tourism in the country. It is charged with the responsibility of formulating and implementing policies on wild life management as well as co- ordination of planning, development, promotion and marketing of tourism.
Kenya’s tourism sector thrives on the natural resources and scenic landscape. Currently, the country has 59 national parks and game reserves, which occupy 7.5 percent of the land surface. The national game parks are managed by the Kenya Wild life Services while the game reserves are managed by the local authorities.
The other tourist attractions include marine parks, mountains, the Rift Valley, lakes and natural vegetation. Marine parks are renown for the coral reefs, gardens and sea animals. The beaches and lagoons offer opportunities for sun bathing, boat riding and big game fishing. Similarly, the inland lakes offer a variety of attractions. Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley is famed for flamingos, while Lake Victoria offers a variety of fresh water fish, rare birds, crocodiles and hippos. Other inland water attractions are available in Lake Turkana, Bogoria and Naivasha.
The mountains are scenic and host numerous species of wild game. Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro with their snow capped peaks are in themselves attractions to behold. They also offer opportunity for sporting activities – mountain climbing, skidding, trekking and camping. Besides these, the country has some natural and indigenous forests such as the Arabuko Sokoke and Kakamega which host rare wild life, birds and insects. Besides, the country has museums, historic and scenic sites and snake parks.
Kenya’s main tourist attractions are the coastal beaches, mountains, wild life, natural vegetation and beautiful landscapes like the Rift Valley.
Sustained efforts to promote tourism continued yielding positive results with earnings rising considerably as does the number of visitors. Tourism, like anything else, has an impact on Kenya both directly and indirectly. But it’s a mixed bag when it comes to evaluating the impact of tourism dollars on the economy. As much as tourism helps the country and its citizens develop and thrive.
As with many African nations, tourism provides thousands of jobs to local residents in Kenya. Hotel staff, drivers, cooks, tour guides and airport personnel are all directly employed by the industry. Number of people are indirectly employed as construction workers, food suppliers, etc.
The unfortunate flip side of this is that the jobs are usually seasonal, and often menial.
In most parts of Kenya, tourism is a seasonal business, with additional staff being required during high seasons and less hands needed for off peak months. So for the locals who fall under the category of seasonal workers, employment is unsteady, making it difficult financially to get through the year.
Tourism in Kenya is a source of foreign exchange and income for the government. This helps reduce dependence on other sectors such as agriculture, which are subject to weather and market conditions that can often be unpredictable.
Up to 21% of Kenya’s national income has been derived from tourism. These much needed funds have helped diversify the economy, and have been put towards developing the country’s infrastructure.
Tourism has the positive side effect of encouraging wild life conservation efforts. Tourists visit Kenya to see animals and landscapes unique to the country, giving the government incentive to protect them.
Though the incentive is primarily financial rather than humanitarian, forests, games parks, and cultural heritage sites are preserved as potential sources of income and will continue to remain as so, to the benefit of Kenyan locals, culture and history.
Tourists are an important part of the Kenyan economy and they directly and indirectly help to preserve the country’s history and economy.