NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s earnings from tourism rose 3.9% last year to 163.56 billion shillings ($1.61 billion), thanks to a slight increase in the number of visitors, its tourism minister said on Friday.

The East African nation, which relies on tourism as a major source of foreign exchange and jobs, had 2.05 million tourists last year, an increase of 1%, said Najib Balala.

An attack on a hotel and office complex in Nairobi last January, and a general slowdown in the global tourism business, were to blame for the low growth in arrival numbers, he said.

Along with agricultural exports and money sent home by Kenyans living abroad, tourism is one of the top foreign exchange earners.

Kenya has a variety of products, from beach holidays at the coast to Safaris in the Maasai Mara wildlife reserve, but it attracts fewer visitors than African competitors like South Africa due to frequent political upheavals and insurgent attacks.

Between 2012 and 2015, visitor numbers and tourism earnings fell after a spate of attacks claimed by Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which wants Nairobi to pull its troops out of Somalia.

A reduction in attacks in the years that followed allowed the sector to rebound.


($1 = 101.5000 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Kim Coghill