Former US President Barack Obama with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi, July 2018
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    Written by: Meshack Masibo

    President Barrack Obama recently made a one-day visit to Kenya which saw him hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and later travelling to his ancestral home of K’Ogelo to visit with his relatives. He then proceeded to South Africa where he will deliver the annual Nelson Mandela lecture the next day. The former president was conspicuously not accompanied by members of his family.

    The Former US President was in for a big shock when he visited Kogelo – his father’s birth place, for the fifth time next week. Amid huge expectations from locals and grumbling from some of his relatives over alleged exclusion from the visit, Barry, as the locals fondly call him, found a spruced up village, complete with power connection, tarmacked roads, a towering hotel and a police post right at the gate of his grandmother Sarah Obama.
    This was the first visit to Kenya after he left office on January 20, last year. He has visited Kenya three other times in 1987, 1992 and the high profile visit in 2015 when serving his second term as president. As a result of the visit, players and investors in the tourism sector foresee a strong second half of 2018 and  a booming 2019 season after former US President Obama visited Kenya this However, pundits believe that dividends from Obama’s visit will only be fully realised  next year.

    This is because in 2015 when Pope Francis and President Barack Obama visited Kenya, the visits were great international marketing stories for  Kenyan tourism. The effects of the heightened international interest in Kenya, were however, only felt a year later, when arrivals into the country increased. The  industry will hopefully continue to see an increased interest in Kenya from the international community similar to the outcome of the 2015 visit, by seeing a positive growth in arrivals into the country in 2019. Obama is  global icon and his visit is a big endorsement to the Kenyan tourism sector. It adds to the global footprints of the people visiting Kenya as a destination which is good.

    Currently, average bed occupancy at the Coast is reading 60 per cent, especially contributed by domestic tourists. The sector is set for a boom in a few weeks as the high tourism season continues where it is witnessing good international arrivals, especially from European countries. The high tourism season is taking shape and experts are confident  that things will be better before the end of the year. With about 114,000 US tourists visiting Kenya last year for leisure and business, the country remains the top source market, according to Kenya Tourism Board data. Kenya has recently implemented a raft of recommendations by the US government to enhance security, among them separation of passenger arrival and departure terminals, clearing the flight path and fencing off the airport.

    In Masai Mara Game Reserve, hotel managers were upbeat that the visit by Obama will spur arrivals even as the annual peak season takes off. They say the visit was an expression of confidence in Kenya’s administration and expressed hope that US tourists will soon top the list of foreign arrivals. There are also indications that tourists who have been visiting Serengeti National Park in Tanzania where Obama spent eight days before jetting into the country will soon start visiting. Since 2008 after the post-election violence, American tourists kept off the Mara, preferring to visit Serengeti instead. But according to tourism experts Obama’s visit will certainly nudge them to change their mind. Since the Americans left citing security reasons, tourists from Asia, especially China, have been topping the list of arrivals.

    Meanwhile, visitors are patiently waiting for the delayed wildebeest migration  due to rains in Tanzania and burning of bush by Serengeti rangers, now set to take place anytime before the end of the month. Guests have for the last one month been camping along Mara River daily, hoping to watch the wildebeest migration.

    In 2006, when he was the Junior Senator for Illinois, Obama visited the reserve and spent a night at BaseCamp just outside the park. The exclusive camp is owned by BaseCamp Foundation, a US charity.  Tent number 10, where Obama spent a night, located along a corner of Talek River, has since been a preferred by visiting tourists.

    According to online news agencies, although virtually all lodges and camps in the reserve are full as visitors arrive to watch the annual wildebeest migration from Serengeti into the Mara, Obama’s visit and the expected launch of KQ flights into the US market, would spur arrivals of Americans in future. The visit has both long- and short-term benefits for the Mara and the country as a whole. Tourists from the US, hoteliers hope, will from next season troop in, probably surpassing those from Asia.

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