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Kenya’s tourism industry has started to recover after losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, the government said on January 19. It said that travel from locals increased while prices were lower. The number of foreign visitors, however, is still well below pre-pandemic levels.

The tourism industry is usually one of the East African nation’s top sources of foreign exchange, or foreign money. The Kenyan government expects the industry to earn $1.5 billion this year. That is an increase of 18.5 percent from last year.

George Gitonga is the acting chief executive of the state-run Tourism Research Institute. He told Reuters after the numbers were released, “The recovery seems to have begun.”

Officials said that earnings in tourism decreased to $781 million in 2020. This was caused by the restriction of movement by governments around the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It included the closure of air spaces, or ways for flights to enter a country.

Tourism minister, Najib Balala, said earnings recovered to $1.29 billion last year. He added that the number of hotel nights occupied by local Kenyan travelers doubled during this period.

Local resorts normally direct their marketing efforts toward foreign tourists. However, they were forced to turn those efforts toward the local Kenyan market during the pandemic.

Foreign visitor numbers are still greatly lower than pre-pandemic levels. The number of foreign visitors in 2021 was around 870,000 compared to 2 million in 2019. They are predicted to reach 1.03 million this year.

The drop in earnings in the industry from foreign tourists has partly caused a great decrease in value for the local currency, the Kenyan shilling. It is trading at all-time lows against the dollar.

Gitonga said this year’s predictions for the industry’s performance depends on the continuation of world efforts to vaccinate people against COVID-19. And, he added, it also depends on continued marketing efforts into traditional markets like Britain, and new ones in Asia.

Popular tourism activities in Kenya include safaris in the Maasai Mara, a national park, and other wildlife areas to holidays on Indian Ocean beaches. Kenya’s tourism industry is about 10 percent of its economic output and employs over 2 million people.

The tourism ministry said the industry lost nearly 1.2 million jobs after the beginning of the pandemic. But, it has started to gain back some of those loses during a possible recovery.