Case study: Kenya’s national tourism strategy

By Matt Burdett, 2 December 2017

On this page, we look at Kenya’s national tourism strategy as an example of the costs and benefits of tourism as a national development strategy, including economic and social/cultural effects.

Welcome to Kenya!

Kenya is located in eastern Africa and is part of the Sub-Saharan block of countries. Tourism is its second largest industry after agriculture. The country usually receives over a million tourist arrivals each year, with many visitors to the famous Rift Valley, the sixty national parks and reserves, 500km of coastline and cultural experiences with the Maasai ethnic group (OBG, 2017).

Kenyan tourism: Facts and figures

The graphic below shows data from a 2017 economic impact report.

National tourism for economic development

The government has focused on improving both the quality and quantity of tourism in Kenya. Recently this has been through two main strategies that are closely linked: the ‘National Tourism Strategy’ of 2013-18, and its absorption into Kenya’s larger development plan ‘Vision 2030’.

Tourism is seen as having both a positive and negative impacts. Job opportunities are welcome, but many are low-skilled, low-paid and considered menial. The seasonal nature of the tourism means that many staff are unemployed for part of the year. The predominance of foreign-owned enterprises (especially hotels) means that local Kenyans can struggle to be promoted into management positions. A further problem is the tendency to promote the needs of tourists rather than those of locals. For example, if there is a choice between opening a health centre or renovating a road for tourists, the latter may win (Mutulu, 2017).

National tourism strategy 2013-2018

The National Tourism Strategy of 2013-18 was a continuation of previous efforts including the Vision 2030 (examined below), with its legal basis being created in the Tourism Act 2010. The overall philosophy of the strategy was that of being “a dignified nation geared towards wealth creation” (Government of Kenya, 2013).

The strategy included five main areas, all of which link to improving sustainability:

1. The need to have an effective product development and deployment approach

2. The need to enhance the marketing of Kenyan tourism products

3. The need to address inadequate financing and improve the investment environment

4. The need to be more scientific through research and information management

5. The need to focus on human capital, legal, policy and institutional framework

The strategy included the following aims:

  • To develop tourism as primarily a domestic industry, followed by regional and international tourism
  • To raise international arrivals from 1.8million to 3 million in the period of the strategy
  • To develop sustainable tourism as a central pillar of the Kenyan economy

Strategy impacts: tourist arrivals

The results of the strategy have been variable. The aim to raise the number of tourist arrivals to 3 million failed (see graph below). This is partly due to the economic crisis of 2008 which reduced international tourism in general, and specific problems within Kenya including terrorist attacks which received world attention, most significantly the 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping centre. The ebola outbreak in 2014 – despite there being no cases at all in east Africa – also contributed to a reduction in tourist arrivals. Since the graph below was produced, the 2016 figures have shown a resurgence in tourism with a 17% increase in arrivals and earnings. Most visitors – around 35% – come from Europe, although in 2016 the US overtook the UK as the biggest single country of tourist origin, with around 97,000 tourist arrivals in Kenya (OBG, 2017).

Strategy impacts: economy

Tourism is a major part of the Kenyan economy. In 2016 the total contribution was US$2.5bn which is equivalent to 3.7% of the total economy.

Although the total amount of money earned by tourism has increased, the contribution of tourism to GDP has actually decreased through the period.

However, the graphic below shows how the aim to increase domestic tourism spending has succeeded:

National tourism strategy beyond 2018: Vision 2030

In 2007, the government of Kenya released Vision 2030, a new co-ordinated national strategy with the aim of “transforming Kenya into a newly industrialising, middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030” (Government of Kenya, 2007: 1). Economic, social and political themes are found throughout the strategy. The importance of tourism is underlined by it being specifically included as a major element of the ‘economic’ section. The National Tourism Strategy 2013-18 was created specifically to fit within the Vision 2030 aims. It included both specific goals for immediate effect and longer term ‘flagship projects’. As of 2017, the flagship projects were expanded to six projects. However, only one of these was on track (Kenya Vision 2030, 2017):

  • Development of Resort Cities (Not Started/Behind Schedule)
  • Underutilised Parks Initiative (Commenced)
  • Development of Niche Products (Commenced)
  • Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) (Not Started/Behind Schedule)
  • Premium Parks Initiative (On Schedule/Ahead of Schedule)
  • Cradle of Humankind (Not Started/Behind Schedule)

The complexity of the agencies involved – including private enterprise, government departments and local communities – was acknowledged in the original 2007 Vision. The lack of progress towards most of the flagship projects was recognised in 2017 with a US$100,000 task force to review the tourism strategy (Omulo, 2016). This eventually led to the National Tourism Blueprint 2030 which has four specific aims designed to be closer to the overall Vision 2030 strategy:

  • Product development, to expand the attractions beyond beach and safari tourism to include sports tourism, adventure, heritage and cuisine
  • Innovation, focusing on technology
  • Marketing strategy, including advertising
  • Investment in infrastructure

Specific improvements include (McGonagle, 2017):

  • Better transport links including the Madaraka Express train from Nairobi to Mombasa, and a six-lane expressway on the same route, as well as a new airport at Isiolo
  • Offering 48 transit visas from January 2018
  • Building 13 new hotels in the country. However, as these will include international chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton, there remain concerns over the leakage of tourist income from the country.

The concerns about leakage go far beyond only the hotel industry. The graphic below shows how money leaks out of Kenya:

  • Source: Brazier, 2008.


Brazier, 2008. Problems in paradise. Graphic originally sourced from: Tourism Concern/Leeds DEC, cited in Pamela Novicka, No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism, NI 2007. Accessed 23 January 2018.

Government of Kenya, 2007. Kenya Vision 2030 The Popular Version. Accessed 2nd December.

Government of Kenya, 2012. National Tourism Strategy 2013-2018. strategy%202013_2018.pdf Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Mutulu, F., 2014. The Impact Of Tourism On Kenya: Looking At Both Sides Of The Coin Accessed 2nd December 2017

OBG Oxford Business Group, 2017. Tourism rises in Kenya once again. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Kenya Vision 2013, 2017. Pillars: Economic sector: tourism. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Lajon, 2015. No title. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

McGonagle, K., 2017. WTM 2017: Kenya outlines tourism strategy. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Omulo, C. 2016. Task force gets Sh10m to review Kenya’s tourism strategy. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

World Bank, 2017a. International tourism, number of arrivals. Accessed 2nd December 2017

World Bank, 2017b. International tourism, receipts. Accessed 2nd December 2017

WTTC [World Travel and Tourism Council], 2017. Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017 Kenya. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Case study: Kenya’s national tourism strategy: Learning activities


  1. Describe the importance of tourism to Kenya’s economy. [3]
  2. Describe the changes in tourist arrivals to Kenya. [3]
  3. Describe the changes in income from tourism in Kenya. [3]
  4. Outline the main principles behind the National Tourism Strategy 2013-18. [5]
  5. Has the strategy been a success? Explain your answer. [5]
  6. Outline the main principles behind the Vision 2013 strategy in relation to tourism. [4]

Other tasks

With regard to tourism, do you think the Vision 2030 strategy will be successful? Explain your answer. Consider both the elements of the Vision that are within the control of Kenya and those that are not.

Going further