Visitors from China and other new markets drove a surge in Kenya's tourism revenues last year, but the euro zone crisis and fears that 2007's election violence will be repeated are likely to hurt arrivals in 2012, its tourism minister warned.
Revenues from tourism, a major source of income for the east African country, soared 32 percent in 2011 as high-spending arrivals from the United Arab Emirates, China and India made up for a fall in visitors from its traditional European markets.
But tourism minister Najib Balala said on Wednesday that the festering euro zone crisis and warnings by some governments against travel to Kenya ahead of elections due by March next year were likely to drag on arrivals this year.
"I don't expect any growth in 2012. The economic crisis in Europe is seriously biting ... Growth in 2012 is expected to be at the same level as 2011 (flat)," Balala told reporters.
Tourism, one of Kenya's major foreign earners alongside tea and horticulture raked in 98 billion shillings last year, shy of its 100 billion shilling target, and up from 74 billion shillings posted in 2010.
The UK, United States and Australia have issued travel advisories to their citizens intending to visit Kenya following the killing of tourists in the coastal resort of Lamu, which prompted an offensive by Kenyan troops into Somalia to root out the al Qaeda-linked militant group blamed for the attacks.
There are also concerns about a resurgence of the violence that erupted following a disputed presidential election in 2007.
"What is worrying tourists is the travel advisories that have been issued by the embassies," Balala said. "So if the embassies are going to up their travel advisories because of the elections, then yes, it will worry me."
Kenya saw big declines in 2011 arrivals fall from traditional markets such as the Netherlands and Austria - down 9.8 percent and 10.5 percent respectively - while the number of French visitors was 3.6 percent lower.
Arrivals from the fast-growing new markets increasingly targeted by the region's biggest economy climbed sharply, with 42 percent more visitors coming from the UAE, 31.4 percent more from China and Indian tourist numbers rising 24 percent.
Balala said Kenya is currently reviewing its strategy and plans to divert resources towards emerging markets from the stagnating economies on which it has traditionally relied.
"The market that we feel is very strong is South Korea," Balala said. "Other markets with major growth are India, China, USA and South Africa."
The minister noted that Chinese travellers tended to spend more than Europeans, helping shore up tourism revenues.
Total arrivals in 2011 rose 15.4 percent to 1.26 million, slightly fewer than the 1.3 million Kenya had targeted. Visitors from the United Kingdom remained the most numerous, followed by those from the United States and Italy.