Is Tourism the Best Way For Kenya To Develop?

In this report, I will be investigating how tourism is increasing Kenya’s income and world standing. I will also, however, be investigating the positive and negative repercussions of tourism on Kenya’s people, wildlife and landscape, before coming to my own conclusion on whether tourism should be encouraged as a source of income.

Why might the government want to encourage tourism in Kenya?

In comparison with other more economically developed countries (MEDC’s) such as the UK, it can be seen that Kenya cannot be classed under the title MEDC as the country lacks certain characteristics necessary for the title. In comparison, however, with less economically developed countries such as India, it can be seen that Kenya does fit the criteria for a LEDC more convincingly. This is shown in the table below.

If we look at this table, you can see clear contrasts between the figures for each country. On examining population, for example, it can be seen that the population of Kenya is just 28.8 million. This is less than half that of Britain, an MEDC which has a population of 59 million, and only just over 10% of that of the USA, also a MEDC with a population of 267.7 million. What this trend would suggest is that the higher the population, the more economically developed the country. India, however, an LEDC disproves this theory, with a population of 969.7 million. Usually, population is an indication of development, as a larger population would suggest a higher life expectancy rate, and higher GNP. Although this is true for some examples, there are always some countries which break the rule.

When you compare the USA and Kenya, you will see that Kenya an LEDC has a low life expectancy of just 54 years and so in turn has relatively low population. Similarly if you look at the USA, you will see it has a very high population generated by its high life expectancy of 76 years. In India, however, quite a different trend is apparent, as even though it has a population approaching a billion, it has a very poor life expectancy of just 59 years. This is an example of an extreme, where too many people are flooding the limited resources available.

The life expectancies of the LEDC’s and MEDC’s do have a clear trend, with few LEDCS having one over 60, (India is the highest above with 59) and few MEDC’s having one below 76, (USA, being the lowest above with 76). As I began to explain, the reasons for these differences in life expectancy are due to the GNP of a country as the more money that a country has, the more money can be spent on improving living conditions. Providing a country is not at war, when the money is usually spent on arms etc, the money a nation earns is usually spent on improving education, infrastructure and health care.

Naturally then, as is illustrated above, the more money (GNP) a nation has, the more it spends on such facilities so its people are healthier and live longer. Although this is not a problem for MEDC’s such as USA and UK as they both have high GNPs, for LEDC’s such as Kenya there are difficulties. Due to national debts, lack of resources and few developed businesses, LEDC’s do not have the income required to improve living conditions to a satisfactory level, thus people living in LEDC’s have less access to healthcare etc. and so are more susceptible to disease, thus they have lower life expectancies.

We can now understand why Kenya faces these problems, as if we compare its GNP with the USA’s, we see that on average a Kenyan person earns just $280 a year, compared with $26980 of the average American. Having less money to pay for education etc, Kenya is seemingly trapped in a spiral of poverty, as money is needed for education, but education is needed to make money. It is for this reason that the Kenyan government may want to embrace tourism as a source of income.

Tourism is seemingly an ideal solution to Kenya’s problem, as due to its many gam reserves and golden coastlines, it attracts millions of tourists every year. Tourism does not rely on the development of high tech businesses or the training of the population, it simply relies on using the nations resources, which in the case of Kenya are in the form of natural reserves and tropical conditions. When tourist visit Kenya they bring with them money on which many Kenyans rely. For Kenya, tourism is the key source of income, making more money than any exports, such as tea and coffee. The reason for this is that although 78% of Kenya’s population are employed in agriculture, due to national debt and unfair trading conditions, the nations agricultural products are sold for pittance to large western corporations.

With tourism, however, there is no middleman, the money goes straight from the tourists to the people, thus the government sees tourism as a more efficient means by which to increase their countries GNP than agriculture. The reason why this increase in GNP is important, is as with it will come an increase in education, health care and improvements in infrastructure. These three things are the basis of development from which Kenya can build a stronger economy and rise in the development ladder. In this way the increase in tourism can be directly linked to the increase in Kenya’s GNP and in turn development level.

Why are tourists attracted to Kenya?

As you can see from the climate graph of Nairobi, the annual temperature in Kenya varies very little, it is consistently warm all year through, not dropping below 17 degrees even in winter. Being just in the Southern Hemisphere, Nairobi’s summer begins about the same time as our autumn. From October the temperature begins to rise, eventually peaking in February and March, the summer months of Kenya, before dropping steadily by 1 degree a month back down to 17 degrees in July.

As is the equator splits Kenya almost in two, there are several different weather systems in operation in different regions of Kenya. In the North the climate is hot with little rain, where as in the south, the coast is humid, the highlands are temperate and the lake Victoria region is considered tropical. Being situated midway between the coast and lake Victoria, Nairobi’s wettest of months are in summer, as the increase in heat leads to an increase in evaporation, resulting in the moderate rainfall it experiences. From the graph we can see that just as Nairobi’s temperature has two apparent peaks, in October and then in February and March, so too its rainfall follows the same trend. Beginning to rise at the start of these hot months, the rainfall peaks a month or so after the temperature, the highest amounts being 153mm in April and 132 in November. The rainfall then, however, drops with the temperature, falling to just 13mm in July.

As I mentioned earlier the rainfall in Kenya is very varied. The wettest areas of Kenya are located in the East of the country and on the coast. On the coast the wet areas are spread in an even band along the sea front about 50 km in land. The reason for these heavy coastal rains is that due to the high temperatures, there are also high amounts of evaporation of sea water along the coast. Clouds are then formed when the vapour rises to a sufficient height for the air to cool enough to result in the condensation of the vapour. Blown from the sea, water vapour travels inland into Kenya. As the vapour approach the shorelines, the relief begins to increase, with the average land height increasing to about 100m above sea level, this increase in height in turn causes the air to rise, thus it becomes cooler and condenses to form the clouds which lead to precipitation.

Inland in the East there is also a water source, lake Victoria which also supplies water vapour. Yet as we can see from the map, the wet areas venture far inland, hundreds of miles from any water. The reason for this is due to two key factors, the relief and the equator. As the wet area to the east lies on the equator, the air pressure in that region is considerably less than else where in the continent. This low air pressure encourages rainfall as it allows the water vapour to rise higher and so become cooler and condense into the clouds which produce precipitation.

This low air pressure works together with the relief of the area, as from the eastern border of Kenya, reaching in to the source of the river Tana, there is a very mountainous area, with an average height of 3000 meters in places. This mountainous region also contributes to the low air pressure necessary for rain, as by rising 3000meters into the air, the mountains force the clouds of water vapour to rise as they pass over them. As I have mention previously, by rising the clouds become cold enough to turn into precipitation, thus the east of Kenya is more prone to rainfall.

These weather conditions have had a knock on effect on the wildlife of the area also, there are thousands of different plant and animal species in the country. In lake Nakuru, for example, over 450 different species of birds exist in the ecosystem. The reason why the lake is so perfect for these birds is due to three main factors. Firstly, the water is very shallow across the lake, the average depth being just 2 meters, this allows birds such as flamingos to wade far out in search of food etc. It also allows fish hunting birds greater access to the fish, as they can’t hide deep in the bottom of the lake. The second key reason why so many birds can live in the lake ecosystem is that as the water is alkaline, it is ideal for algae growth which thrive in such conditions.

These vast supplies of algae are in turn eaten by vast supplies of fish, which along with their predators, provide ample food supply for the thousands of birds that feed on them. The third reason for the vast numbers of birds is that the water is clear and has very little sediment. This quality means that not only does the algae grow better as more sunlight gets to them (more photosynthesis) leading to more fish and so more food for the birds, but also it makes it easier for fisher-birds to see their prey so more food is available to them.

As you can see from fig. 3, the Kenyan Savanna is also home to a multitude of animal species, all coexisting in one of the largest ecosystems on earth. Due to the amount of animals in the ecosystem, however, it is very sensitive to the slightest change in population in the various stages. If the number of leopards were reduced due to poaching, for example, then their could be far reaching consequences. Firstly, the decrease in leopards would lead to an increase in their prey, impalas and gazelles, as fewer are now being eaten. Reducing this control on the impala and gazelle numbers would allow more to mate, and so, within a few years, there would be a notable increase in their numbers.

This increase, would in turn trigger a decrease in the Savanna grasses, as their would now be larger numbers of gazelle and impala eating them. With the decrease in grass there would in turn be a decrease in other animals which rely on it for food as there would no longer be enough to support them. These animals, buffalo rhinos and warthogs, would either leave the area or die off. This in turn would reduce the food available for large predators such as lions etc. so they too would begin to die out. The cycle has now come full circle with the reduction in the number of teritary predators thus the whole of the consequence chain would begin again. This example, shows just how fragile the ecosystem is and so should make us more concerned with the way we treat it.

All the natural qualities I have mentioned above are key factors in Kenya’s appeal in the eyes of the tourist that visit the country each year. The environment is one of these factors, being consistently hot all year through and having virtually no rain during the tourist season, thousands of tourists from Western Europe are attracted to Kenya’s golden and unspoilt beaches each year. The vast tropical coastline is also accompanied by a large coral reef, boasting a wide variety of marine species. This therefore also contributes to Kenya’s appeal. The main attraction of Kenya for most tourists, however, is the vast variety of wildlife that can be found in the game reserves there. For many tourists, being able to see wild animals in their natural habitat is more than a good reason to visit the country. The popularity of these parks is reflected by the fact that now over 40 of them exist in the country. Additional natural attractions include the physical features of Kenya, such as Mount Kilamanjaro, located on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, and Lake Victoria, located on Kenya’s eastern border. Both of these sites are beautiful and attract millions of tourists.

Does tourism bring more problems than benefits?

Economic Effects

Tourism is undoubtedly beneficial for the Kenyan economy, as over the last 35 years, it has grown into Kenya’s largest source of income, overtaking tea and coffee in 1989 with 22% of the nations income. Tourism also supplies jobs for the local people, providing positions in hotels and also allowing the creation of small private businesses, such as tour van companies and cafes.. For these reasons tourism should, and will be encouraged. The controversy comes, however, when we take into account, just how much of the income from tourism Kenya actually receives. It can be argued that Kenya is being exploited by the larger holiday companies who operate there. Professional Kenyans, skilled in careers such as carpentry etc. are giving up their jobs to join tourism-related careers such as waiters. Figures show that the money coming in from tourism is increasing each year. The problem occurs, however, as this increase is followed by a decrease in other sources of income. Kenya is now running the risk of becoming too dependant on tourism as a source of income.

There is also the issue of just how much of the money generated by tourism goes to the Kenyan people, as figures show that in fact large overseas corporations are taking most of the money. For all of the money coming into Kenya, there is also vast amounts going out as a result of tourism. The Kenyan government for example has had to take out large loans from other countries in order to pay for the development of it tourist facilities. There are also goods that have to be imported for tourists and other amounts of money going out of Kenya as a direct result of tourism. I did mention that tourism creates jobs for locals, but how many companies will actually employ these natives?

In many instances the foreign tour operators at work in Kenya, will use foreign air lines, import foreign food, build with foreign building materials and employ foreign tour guides. Some jobs are created for Kenyan workers, however, in the construction of the hotels, for example, employing a Kenyan work force is much cheaper than bringing in foreign labourers. Yet for any job with any technical skill foreigners are still drafted in, with the result that few Kenyans will ever be able to advance career wise higher than farmers or tour guides. In this way, it could be argued that tourism is weakening Kenya’s economy, as the development of tourist orientated businesses are replacing that of more high tech developments that would raise Kenya’s economic standing in the world economy. Although tourism is a quick way of earning money, it is not one that allows much room for development, as it will always rely on foreign money as opposed to investing in Kenyan business.

What are the social effects of tourism in Kenya?

The social effects of tourism on Kenya are probably the furthest reaching of all. Tourism permeates every aspect of Kenyan society, from the Savanna dwelling natives to the Muslims of the coastal regions. Similarly opinions of tourism are just as diverse, with some welcoming the ethnic mix while others despise it. The benefits of tourism on the Kenyan populations are clear. Tourism brings with it increased understanding between peoples of different nations and cultures. It also brings the money with which new developments, such as improvements to Kenya’s infrastructure, are bought. Another key argument for tourism is that the money it brings, pays to help preserve Kenyan heritage, in renovating buildings and giving money to the natives. Some Kenyan, however, argue quite the opposite, claiming that tourism is a direct route to the decline of the Kenyan culture. Sacred rituals once performed by the Massi people, now become quaint stage shows and people are driven from traditional industries into degrading tourist serving jobs. Kenyans are becoming second class citizens in their own country, unable to go to the beach in case they spoil the scenery and forced to undertake degrading roles, it easy to see why the anti-tourism feeling exists.

Some people promote tourism as a healthy mix of different cultures, yet it is apparent that this is not always the case. With them tourists have also brought drugs, fornication and alcohol to Kenya. The influx of white tourists has lead to thousands of Kenyans turning to prostitution for money. Kenyan men known as ‘Beach-boys’ have also begun to operate, seducing rich white women in order to return to Europe with them when they leave Kenya. This interracial fornication is in turn contributing to a much larger problem. Due to the poverty in the country, 14% of the Kenyan population has aids, by having numerous sexual encounters while on holiday, white tourists are not only opening themselves up to infection, but they are also spreading it further through the Kenyan population.

In certain areas, tourism shows blatant disregard for the local customs and culture. In the coastal regions of Kenya, for example, there is high Muslim population. In the Islam religion, women have to wear long black garments covering all of their body, except the eyes, as it is a sin to advertise themselves to men. When tourists walk through these settlements, however, women often wear bikinis or even go topless, this is a great disrespect and insult to the Muslim inhabitants. If this weren’t bad enough, tourism has also lead to the opening of many bars and nigh clubs in Muslim areas. This again is a disregard for their culture as alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Other positive repercussions of tourism, though, include a decrease in death rate by 5% in 20 years, as the improvement of services for tourists also benefit natives and the money the tourists bring is spent on health care and infra structures. A negative statistic, however, is a fall in birth rate by 3% in 20 years, already a low populated country it is worrying to think that many Kenyan youths are leaving for Europe with the tourists. This is yet again another example of the direct loss of Kenyan culture through tourism. On the other hand, though, the question must be asked whether without the money brought by tourism, Kenyan culture would be able to survive at all.

What are the environmental effects of tourism in Kenya?

The environmental effects of tourism in Kenya are perhaps the most obvious and worrying of them all, as the current way in which tourists and locals alike exploit the natural Kenya could prove to be the root to Kenya’s down fall. As I have mentioned previously, Kenya has over 40 game reserves which are home to the variety of plant life and animal species that make Kenya so appealing. The problem that is arising, however, is that instead of preserving the reserves, locals and tourists are physically destroying them. The largest game reserve in Kenya is the Massi Mara, receiving millions of visitors a year. Due to its popularity, large amounts of locals are employed in transporting the tourists around the park in minibuses, which does not affect the park, were they to keep to the roads built for them.

The problem occurs, however, as these minibuses go off road, into the heart of the reserve in search of animals. Showing total disregard for the animals, these bus drives drive within feet of them. Sometimes there can be as many as twenty buses on one animal so the tourists can get photographs. This armada of minibuses has had numerous effects on the environments of the large game parks. The most obvious being the traumatising of the animals. In the Massi Mara there have been notable decreases in the mating of animals as a direct result of the buses. In fact the constant intrusion, has lead many tourists to describe the Massi Mara as a zoo but on a larger scale. Another problem the buses cause is the compacting of the soil. By driving off road, the busses crush plants and compact the soil. This results in a lack of plant growth, which in turn means bare surfaces and thus more soil erosion so in the future there won’t be enough soil left for plants to grow at all.

Another popular way to view the animals of the Massi Mara is by Hot air balloon, as they do not crush the plants or ruin the soil, they appear to be the perfect alternative to minibuses. The problem still remains, however, that the balloons, like the minibuses still disturb the animals, the noise of a balloons burners can be heard for miles around and in one instance in the Massi Mara, a herd of rhinos were driven from the area by the noise.

Another way in which tourism has negatively contributed to the Massi Mara, socially as well as environmentally, has been in the case of the Massi people. Living in the area for centuries, the Massi people were forced to move out without compensation when the parks open. Due to the influence of tourists, the Massi people now have to live on the very outskirts of the parks, where try to regain their normal, agricultural way of life. With this, however, another problem occurs, as in order to contain their animals the Massi build fences, the problem is these fences block animal migration roots and so kill the animals of the park. The Massi people’s philosophy is that of, why should we conserve the animals, when we get no benefit from it.

Despite these negative impacts of tourism, there have also been positive repercussions. The money earnt from tourism, for example, is reinvested into the park and the preservation of the wildlife within it. One use is payment of local guards, who patrol the park in order to prevent drivers breaking the law by going off road. Yet despite these preliminary measures, stricter guidelines will need to be enforced if the parks are going to remain a source of income for the future.

It is not only the inland environments which are being affected, however, as the coastal regions are also being overwhelmed by tourism. As inland, tourism here has far reaching effects. One of the largest problems due to tourism is coastal erosion, as in order to build the hotels and other resorts, large areas of mangrove forests were felled. By felling these forests, the rain which falls on the coast has little interception, so it can run off rapidly towards the sea, eroding the land as it goes. Erosion is not only threatening fishing grounds, ports and farmland on the Kenyan coast, it is also threatens the large tourist hotels which bring millions of pounds into Kenya each year. If the coastal areas became unsafe, it would devastate Kenya’s economy.

Another worrying repercussion of tourism on the coast is on the famous coral reef situated off the coast. Like the game reserves, locals also have been exploiting the coral reef, providing boat trips to it for the tourists. The problem that is arising, however, is that the tourists and locals who visit it are in fact destroying the coral. Being one of the most beautiful and delicate ecosystems on the planet, coral can die just by being touched, and yet off the coast of Kenya the boat trips allow the tourist to walk on top of the coral and take souvenirs of their visit home. These souvenirs take the form of marine life such as starfish and in a year tourists can remove up to 141 tonnes of it. One of the worst culprits for the decline of the reefs are the local boat owners themselves, as they drop anchor in the middle of the reef and then drag it through the coral. All of these actions are turning Kenya’s coral reef into a baron waste land of dead coral which will not regrow for hundreds of years. It is therefore imperative that something is done to combat this problem.


As I have shown in my report, tourism is a double bladed sword for Kenya. The economy has become so dependant on the industry that it could not do without it and yet, at the same time tourism is destroying the very environmental qualities of Kenya that the tourist are coming to see. There is also of course the social effects which I have also mentioned, where the rush to make money from tourism has lead to a decline in national heritage. For example hotels etc. ruin historical landscapes of the area and ancient peoples such as the Massi abandon the life style they have led for centuries in order to make money from the tourists, by selling necklaces etc. It is surely clear then that something must be done in order to preserve Kenya, and this is down to you, the Kenyan government.

The reason for most of these problems can be traced down to the government and their headlong leap into tourism without fully surveying what consequences would result. Similarly it has to be the government who correct these errors before it is too late. As I have mentioned, the government’s current approach to tourism seems to be one of complacency. You have adopted the attitude that anything is viable, as long as it brings in money, but the question is just how much of that money you are receiving.

At the moment, thousands of foreigners are being employed in Kenya as a result of the tourism industry, and there are thousands more people employed in companies abroad which make the goods these tourist complexes buy. I see these as thousands of potential jobs for Kenyans which are being given away. In many other tourist destinations, the government has introduced laws, allowing the construction of hotels etc. only by national unions and making it so that a certain number of native people have to be employed in the tourist complexes. Another option open to you is the investment in Kenyan industry. Rather than allowing goods to be bought from abroad, force these travel companies to buy Kenyan products by increasing tax on foreign imports. All these are ways of strengthening the Kenyan economy whilst maximising profits.

Another law, which could be introduced in order to make tourism in Kenya more sustainable, is a building legislation specifying that hotels have to built in the traditional building style so as not to ruin the landscape and culture of the area. Not only would this then provide more jobs for Kenyan builders who specialise in traditional building techniques, but it would also remedy much of the over crowding and loss in environmental quality created by the large multi-storey eye sores currently being built.

These are not just ideas that I am putting forward, however, as in some areas such as Lamu these techniques are being put into practice successfully. In Lamu the hotels are built to a traditional style, they are also built below the tree line so as not to spoil the landscape. The locals who stay in these venues also show more respect for the local Muslim culture there, wearing clothes which cover most of their body and only one bar is built in the area. On top of these improvements, the money earned by the hotels is invested back into the town of Lamu, paying for renovations etc. If this technique were to be applied else where in Kenya, I think it would meet with the approval of many of the anti-tourism residents who feel their culture is being destroyed.

As well as restrictions on the building of tourist resorts in Kenya, there should also be restrictions on the way in which Kenya’s natural habitats are exploited. On the Mombado coast, for example, laws should be made and enforced so that tourists can only see the coral reef through licensed boat trip operators. These boat trips would continue to employ locals, but through the use of glass bottomed boats etc. the way in which the coral is viewed would be limited so as not to cause damage.

Similar measures also need to be implemented in the game reserves if the animals are to be preserved. Currently the laws there are not enforced. Firstly this could be done with the creation of more ranger jobs. Secondly, as with reef trips, the tours of the parks could be limited to licensed local drives who respect the parks environment by stealthily following animals and keeping to the paths with a trained local guide. Again such measures as these are already being implemented with success in areas like the Tsavo game reserve, where only one or two trips are made every hour, and the tourists stay out in the Savanna camped in tents etc. so as not to disturb the animals. On being interviewed after experiencing both forms of safari, tourist in fact preferred the Tsavo way, saying that if they returned it would be on the strength of their Tsavo experience.

So, as you can see in many cases the restrictions that must be implemented will increase tourism as well as national income. Tourism should be encouraged in Kenya, but at the same time it must be remembered that unless it is sustainable, it will inevitably lead to a decline in the Kenyan culture as well as income. After all tourists will not want to come to a Kenya full of dwindling game reserves, baron seas and decayed culture.

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