Tourism in East Africa: Top Ten Tourist Destinations and why Revival in the Sector is Needed

By Juma Fred

Most Kenyans would prefer visiting Rwanda as a tourist destination as opposed to Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi all countries in the East African region.

According to a Twitter poll conducted by @SokoAnalyst on the 28th of May this year (2017), 64 percent of Kenyans prefer Rwanda as their destination, 15 percent prefer going to the land of Matoke, Uganda, 19 percent prefer going to Tanzania while only 2 percent of Kenya prefer visiting Rwanda. The poll, however, excluded Kenya because the aim was to ask Kenyans any other East African state, apart from Kenya, they would love to visit as tourists.

Before coming down to the East African region in terms of Tourism, here is a preview of the tourism sector in the African continent:


[box] Miss Africa Tourism Organisation[/box]

According to the Hospitality Report Africa 2017 released by Jumia Travel, Africa was  expected to attract a total of 64 million international tourist arrivals in 2017 which was higher than the 58 million tourists who vis1ted the region in 2016.

The report was confirmed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which estimates that International tourist arrivals grew by a ‘remarkable’ +7% in 2017 reaching 1.32bn –  the strongest results seen in seven years, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

UNWTO says it expects this ‘strong’ momentum to continue into 2018 at a more sustainable pace of +4%-5% ­– however, above the +3.8% average increase projected for the period 2010-2020 by UNWTO’s Tourism Towards 2030 long-term forecast.

Tourism in Europe and the Americas is forecast to grow approximately +3.5%-4.5%, Asia Pacific by +5%-6%, the Middle East by +4%-6% while Africa by +5%-7%.

The Hospitality Report Africa 2017 released by Jumia Travel revealed some key observations about the tourism sector in Kenya. Key among the revelations was the fact that Africa’s tourism depends largely on domestic tourism as compared to foreign tourism. Despite the fact that a lot of revenue in tourism comes from domestic tourism, the area is underutilized with most stakeholders focusing only on foreign tourists.

Tourism in East Africa

Tourism in East African region is a booming business. Most of the countries within the East African Community depend heavily on tourism for revenue. This is the reason why some of the countries have had to go into an economic turmoil every time the tourism sector in such a country is affected. The sad thing about tourism in East Africa is that most of the revenue come from visitors from outside the East African region and outside Africa. Domestic tourism has greatly been neglected as more and more emphasis is placed on foreign tourism. It is very hard to get citizens from the East African region visiting other tourist destinations out of their own countries, say Kenyans visiting Tanzania and Tanzanians visiting Kenya or Uganda as tourists.

Challenges facing the tourism sector in East Africa

  1. Terrorism and insecurity

This is the major challenge facing the tourism sector in East Africa. In Kenya, for instance, cases of terror attacks from the terror group, Al-Shabaab, based in Somalia have often kept tourists from other countries at bay. Countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom have had to issue a travel warning to their citizens, warning them against traveling to Kenya and sometimes to Uganda.

Insecurity in Burundi has greatly affected tourism activities in the country. The country has been through a political turmoil ever since President Pierre Nkunzinza decided to run for a third term in office against the country’s constitution. Constant attacks in Northern Uganda by the outlawed Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been scaring tourists from visiting the country.

  1. Drought

The prolonged drought that has hit the East African region has greatly affected the tourism sector, especially wildlife. In Kenya for instance, thousands of wildlife died and many others migrated in search of water and pasture after the prolonged drought.

  1. Inadequate awareness about tourist destinations in East African region

As already mentioned earlier, most East African nations prefer marketing their amazing tourist destinations to European countries from the West as compared to countries within the East African region. It is not easy to see Rwanda advertising its destinations in Kenya, or Kenya in Rwanda or Uganda or Tanzania. Competitions within the East African states has made this even worse with countries deciding to urge their own citizens to visit sites within the countries.

Top Ten Tourist Destinations in East Africa

As mentioned in earlier, many Kenyans would prefer visiting Rwanda but from the list below, you will notice that among the top ten destinations in East Africa, Rwanda does not appear anywhere:

  1. Zanzibar, Tanzania
  2. Malindi, Kenya
  3. Sipi Falls, Uganda
  4. Masai Mara, Kenya
  5. David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Kenya
  6. African Heritage House, Kenya
  7. Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
  8. Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
  9. Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
  10. Krochet Kids, Uganda.


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