Tourism in Kenya

Introduction | Tourist Industry | Problems Affecting Kenya's Tourism | Solution | Bibliography | Authors' Page Projects



Kenya is located on the equator on the east coast of Africa. Known for diverse wildlife and breathe-taking scenery, Kenya’s national parks and game reserves are among the best in Africa. Most travelers visit Kenya to see the “big 5”: the lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard. These and many other animals can be seen at renowned parks such as the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Amboseli National Park, Mount Kenya National Park, and Lake Turkana. Another one of Kenya’s many attractions is Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. With so many points of interest it is no surprise that tourism is the second largest contributor of the Kenyan economy.



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Apart from agriculture, tourism is the largest contributor to Kenya’s economy. Tourism accounts for almost 20% of the country’s GDP with an annual yield of 500 million US dollars. The tourist industry provides jobs for 180,000 locals as well as indirectly providing 320,000 jobs connected through tourism. Tourism is able to create such a large number of jobs because it can employ people of all different skill levels, everything from managers to safari drivers. The tourist industry is unique in that it provides more jobs than any other business. Each year 780,000 visitors spend money not only on safaris and hotels, but also on apparel, food and beverages, transportation, and entertainment. Providing so much economic diversification greatly benefits the country. New development, such as the building of airports, hotels, roads, and restaurants helps Kenya modernize and be even more accessible to the world. Tourism is also beneficial to Kenya because it helps to promote cultural exchanges of ideas and beliefs. This idea of “international goodwill” is vital to a country’s standings (UN: Sustainable Tourism in Kenya 4).



While it is good that tourism brings such a large amount of revenue, it also leaves the country vulnerable. In the past ten years a series of terrorist attacks that were specifically aimed at tourists have devastated the Kenyan economy. In 1998 there was a bombing at the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. This was followed by the 2002 bombing of a hotel popular among Israeli tourists. At the same time there was an attempt to take down an airline full of Israeli tourists. Of course, the attacks of September 11th did not help matters. These attacks highlighted Kenya’s vulnerability to terrorism. As could be expected, the number of foreign visitors severely dropped. At its peak in 1996, Kenya’s tourist industry hosted over one million visitors. However, in 2002 after the terrorist attacks, the number of visitors dropped to 40,346. This drop in tourists was devastating not only for hotel owners and tour groups, but for many local businesses that provide services for the tourists. The terrorist attacks revealed just how vital the tourist industry is to Kenya’s economy.


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Although tourism has been a positive force in Kenya’s economy, bringing in around 780,000 visitors annually and 500 million US dollars, the tourist industry has suffered many setbacks as well as caused many problems within the country.

While bringing in a major part of Kenya’s GDP (19%), locals in Kenya received very little benefit.  In fact, less than 2% of income at Maasai Mara National Reserve went to benefit locals.  The majority of the income, including entry fees that visitors paid, went to the government’s treasury, luxury lodges, transportation, and foreign tour operators.  Kenya’s government made policies stating that locals should receive a quarter of the profits from tourist sites, however, these policies have not been enforced.  Even though little economic benefit has gone to the locals, over 180,000 locals are employed by the tourist industry and 320,000 locals jobs are connected to the tourist industry.



Wildlife, which is one of the tourist attractions, has also suffered from the industry.  As tourists are careless of their treatment of nature in Kenya, this has reduced the number of animals, which will in turn affect the number of tourists that will be attracted to Kenya’s parks.  Off road driving, which is characteristic of Kenya’s safaris, has begun to affect the habitats of the animals in these parks.  Lodge restaurants have changed the eating patterns of animals and some have even been seen eating garbage as well as lead infected vegetation along park road, which will affect the health of Kenya’s wildlife.  Crabs along the beaches have been displaced from their habitat, which has begun to affect the natural food chain of the marine animals.


Originally, Kenya’s tourism industry made up over 19% of the country’s GDP, the popularity of this country as a hotspot has dropped significantly.  This has been caused by political uncertainty as well as ethnic clashes, which have caused tourists to stop returning and tour operators from sending new tourist to Kenya.  The ethnic conflicts have become a significant problem as the Kenyan African National Union, the ruling class, believe they are superior to the Maasai, a large tribe in East Africa, and their allied indigenous ethnicities.  This has resulted in a significant uprising among the indigenous ethnicities and on several occasions led to violence.  Another conflict is that between the farmers and the tourist industry.  As the population of farmers grows, the amount of land becomes smaller and more and more citizens move onto land that was once inhabited by the wildlife. Because the amount of land protected by the parks is so small, much of the wildlife lives on other property.  Those who own this property believe they have the right to do whatever they wish to the wildlife that enters their land.  This has led to around 2-3% of wildlife disappearing every year as residents kill them to prevent them from killing their livestock as they often do. 


Another issue that has been affecting the success of the tourism industry is that other countries, such as South Africa and the Far East have grown in popularity, which forces Kenya to have to compete for travelers.  Kenya’s tourist success depends on America and Europe, where many of its tourists come from, the economic instability and vulnerability of these countries makes it hard to depend on these nations for economic support.  Thus the tourist industry is constantly unstable as a result of the fluctuating inflow of visitors. 


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The tourism industry is leaving a huge impact on Kenya’s wildlife; however, a program called eco-tourism may help the industry to thrive while preserving the environment.  Through this program, visitors are able to see nature up close without damaging the environment.  These programs consist of small sites that never have more than twenty people staying there at a time.  They are located close to game parks so that the use of a mini bus is not needed and walking is promoted, which in turn protects the habitats of the wildlife.  The sites are build with materials that can be found near the region and use alternative energy sources.  They also dispose of waste carefully as to not damage the environment they are staying in.  In order to support the locals, the sites provide foods that are grown and produced locally.  These eco tourist sites are becoming more and more popular as hotel safety and security has become questionable and many tourists have been canceling hotel packages due to poor safety in the hotels and in traveling abroad.  They also provide tourists with an experience that is more unique than a hotel’s package.  Tourists are closer to their natural surroundings and the culture of Kenya, while supporting the community as well.



The eco-tourism programs that have been put into place in Kenya have exceeded the program’s expectations.  Because they are members of this program, it enables the members to consistently improve their standards to provide tourists with the best experience possible.  Kenya has had extreme success in conservation within the community, they have shown great innovation, and the community received and supported the program greatly.  In the future, not only will there be more locations for the eco-tourism program, but also many hotels are now being forced to be more eco-friendly.  With these plans for Kenya’s tourism, the problems they now face will hopefully be fewer and they tourism industry will be able to flourish again.

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Crawley, Mike.  “Investigating the Impact of Tourism in Kenya”  29 Sept. 2000,

International Development Research Center  5/17/06.  < >

This article was very well written and easy to follow.  It provided detailed, non biased info that was straight foreword and easy to follow.

Crowther, Geoff and Hugh Finlay. Kenya: A Travel Survival Kit. Hawthorn: Lonely

            Planet, 1994.

This traveler’s guidebook was very helpful because it gave a lot of good information about where tourists should go and what they should do. It listed many different national parks and gave information on the animals that can be found there. While the book was very detailed, it was useful to have as a resource.

Gatere, Ian.  “Kenya: Land Conflicts Cause Ethnic Bloodshed.”  1 Oct. 1998 MS Danish

            Association for International Co-operation.  5/22/06  < >

I found this site somewhat hard to use as it did not clearly describe what led to the ethnic conflicts and who was specifically involved.  It did not have enough detail and background.

Harmon, Danna.  “Kenya’s Tourism Industry Grows ‘Greener.’”  13 Mar. 2002 

            Peopleand, 5/17/06.  < >

This site was helpful because it provided information about ecotourism when it was in its planning stages.  This gave me a better view of the plans and structure of it and to better understand the groundwork.

Interknowledge Corporation. “Adventure in Kenya.” Geographia. May 2006. Online

            Available. < >

This site listed seven different parks and reserves as well as each park’s special attractions. This site gave useful information used in the Introduction of the webpage. I would recommend this site to anyone who is interested in traveling to Kenya.

“Kenya-Tourism”  East Africa Living Encyclopedia.  1996,  5/16/06

            < >

This site provided clear information that was detailed and easy to follow.  The information was non biased and had a lot of information on the problems facing the tourist industry.

Lacey, Marc. “Threat of Terrorism Hurst Kenya Tourism.” The New York Times. Jan 4,

            2004, 5.3.

Marc Lacey’s article about the affects of terrorism on tourism was very thorough. As well as a brief description of the terrorist attacks, there was comparative data for the years before and after the attacks. Integrated quotes from Kenyans added to the content. The article remained fairly factual and did not get into great discussion about the acts of terrorism themselves.

Lovgren, Stefan. “Terrorism Taking Toll on Kenya’s Tourist Industry.” National

Geographic. May 2006. Online Available.
< >

This site gave a multitude of information on various subjects. Kenya’s tourist industry, eco-tours, terrorism, and the economy were discussed. The author is not terribly biased and gives a good summary of many aspects of Kenya’s tourist industry.

Mbogo, Stephen.  “Tourism in Kenya”  Oct 1998.  New People African Feature Service 


This site has a lot of good information that covers a lot of the tourist industry.  I found it extremely helpful and detailed and easy to follow.

McKinley, James C. Jr. “Almost All the News on Kenya is Turning Out Bad.” The New

            York Times. February 15, 1998, 1.3

This article was not helpful as it barley discussed tourism at all. Most of the information was about how politics, severe weather, and ethnic fights hurt the economy.

“National Eco Tourism Conference” 14 Nov 2005.  Eco Tourism Society of Kenya

            5/18/06 < >

This site was very helpful as it explained very clearly the successes of ecotourism in Kenya.  It had good information and allowed me to see how it has affected the country positively. 

United Nations. “Sustainable Tourism in Kenya.” April 2006. Online Available.

            < >

As always the UN’s site was very helpful. General info about Kenya’s climate land, and animals was discussed. The site also gave the pros and cons to the tourist industry, the role of tourism in the economy, and eco-tourism. All of the information was presented in a clear and easily comprehensive way. I highly recommend this site for anyone who wants to learn more about Kenya’s tourist industry.


Betsy and Meagan

As our last senior project together this assignment was very meaningful to us in more ways than one. Our research taught us just how vital tourism is to Kenya’s economy, providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of people. We also learned that this dependency can be troublesome when the industry is disturbed. While tourism is good for the economy it is also bad for the environment. Eco-tourism, as we learned, is an effective solution to the environmental problems that the industry can cause. Not only did we learn a great deal about Kenya’s tourist industry, we learned a lot about each other. We discovered each other’s great passion for everything Kenyan, as well as our great sorrow that the end of this project means the end of African Studies.