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IIn an era where intercontinental collaboration has become increasingly crucial, the recent surge in tourism numbers from Kenya to  South Africa demonstrates the transformative power of visa-free travel and targeted marketing efforts.

From the 1st of January 2023, Kenyans have enjoyed visa-free travel to South Africa for a period of 90 days in a year. The scrapping of visa requirements for travellers between these two countries is much more than a mere administrative adjustment. It marked a milestone in fostering closer ties for countries within the African continent, serving as a precursor for a new era of ease in travel and cultural exchange.

The impact of visa-free travel, coupled with our marketing strategies, has been profound as South Africa has since experienced a significant surge in visitors from Kenya.  Between January and December 2023, Kenya recorded a 99% increase when compared to 2022, reaching 42,403 arrivals. A comparison of seasonality trends shows that in 2023, arrivals exceeded 2019 arrivals from January throughout, while in 2022, arrivals peaked over 2019 only in October.  This is an incredible number of Kenyan tourists who chose to explore South Africa above any other destination. Overall, South Africa welcomed 6.4 million visitors from the rest of the African continent between January and December 2023, marking a significant 75.6% of all arrivals. In 2023, Kenyan tourists spent over 20% more than what they spent in 2019.The influx of Kenyan visitors to our country has had economic and cultural impacts. Tourism is a significant economic driver, not just in terms of revenue generation but also as a catalyst for job creation, cultural exchange, and strengthening international relations.

As South African Tourism, we welcomed this with immense pride, and this is reflected in our marketing approach in Kenya over the years, which is multifaceted, dynamic and highly targeted.  Through our insights, we know that Kenyans have an appetite for new experiences. The current campaigns "There's So Much More to See" has successfully tapped into this sentiment, highlighting the lesser-known yet equally captivating variety of South African tourism products and experiences led by our warm, culturally diverse people.

Our digital campaigns have further leveraged Kenya's robust social media landscape, achieving impressive engagement metrics including 100 189 114 million impressions 9 289 665 million video views and 615 675 clicks. These figures are a testament not only the power of digital storytelling for extensive consumer reach but also the importance of authentic brand stories that resonate with consumers.  Without a doubt, this campaign has demonstrated an incredible capability to forge connections across borders.

In fact, South African Tourism has also since received wide acclaim and resounding success for the 2022/2023 digital media campaign. The campaign, which featured renowned South African Rapper Sho Madjozi as the Cultural Curator for South African Tourism, focused on exploring the Limpopo Province and celebrating Xitsonga culture through the Xibelani dance.   Last year, the campaign's success was affirmed by a slew of awards at the prestigious international Marketing and Communication Awards, further solidifying South African Tourism's digital prowess in the travel and tourism sector. As we look to the future, we focus on sustaining and building on this momentum. Our marketing strategies' continuous evolution remain vital to achieving this.

We are gearing up for more powerful marketing campaigns and collaborations, including participating in the Magical Kenya Travel Expo and the East Africa Regional Tourism Expo. Such platforms allow us to showcase our diverse tourism offerings and engage with potential travellers and partners across the East Africa region.

Strategic partnerships in the aviation and hospitality sectors have further facilitated this growth. The codeshare agreement between Kenya Airways and SAA , which established direct flights between Nairobi and major South African cities, has been pivotal in enhancing accessibility and convenience for travellers, thereby stimulating tourism and promoting commercial and cultural exchanges.

In this destination marketing journey, challenges and opportunities are intertwined. As SA Tourism, we remain committed to continue promoting South Africa and, indeed, to collaborating with the South African tourism industry and like-minded companies in the countries we market in  to promote  our continent’s tourism offering. We focus on creating sustainable tourism practices that protect our rich environmental and cultural heritage while driving economic development. We understand that the true value of tourism lies not just in its economic benefits but also in its ability to transform communities, improve lives, and foster a sense of shared African identity.

The visa-free travel with Kenya is a shining example of what can be achieved when nations work together towards a common goal. It is a story of the endless possibilities that arise when barriers are broken down and bridges are built.


Figure 1: Annual Arrivals - Kenya to South Africa

Source: Tourism and Migration – STATSSA


Figure 2: Seasonality - Kenya to South Africa

Source: Tourism and Migration – STATSSA

Ms. Nombulelo Guliwe is the Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism


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