The tourist industry in Kenya is the 2nd largest source of foreign exchange revenue followed by agriculture. The main tourist attractions are photo safaris through the 19 national parks and game preserves. Other attractions include the mosques at Mombasa; the renowned scenery of the Great Rift Valley; the coffee plantations at Thika; a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, across the border into Tanzania; and its beaches along the Indian Ocean.
It is argued that Kenyan tourism hasn't developed on its conservation of natural resources, though "beach tourism, eco-tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism all form part of the portfolio." During the 1990s, the number of tourists travelling to Kenya decreased, partly due to the well publicized murders of several tourists. However, tourism in Kenya has been the leading source of foreign exchange since 1997, when it overtook coffee, and the trend continued, with the exception on 2007-2008.
Following the controversial 2007 presidential election and the 2007-2008 Kenyan crisis that followed, tourism revenues plummeted 54 percent from 2007 in the first quarter of 2008. It fell to 8.08 billion shillings (US$130.5 million) from 17.5 billion shillings in January–March 2007 and a total of 130,585 tourists arrived in Kenya compared to over 273,000 that year. Tourist income from China, however, dropped 10.7 %, compared with over 50 % from traditional revenue earners the United States and Europe. Domestic tourism also improved by 45 %, earning the tourist sector 3.65 billion shillings out of the 8.08 billion in the period being reviewed.
Conference tourism was badly hit during the first quarter; dropping by 87.4 % compared to the growth that was witnessed in 2007.974 people arrived in Kenya during that period for many conferences were cancelled. Business travel declined by 21 per cent during the time period and 35,914 travelers came into the country compared to 45,338 during the same period the year before.
Despite this, Kenya won the Best Leisure Destination award at the World Travel Fair in Shanghai, China, in April 2008. The Permanent Secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Tourism, Rebecca Nabutola, stated that the award "goes to testify that Kenya has a unique world acclaimed tourism product. The recognition will no doubt boost Kenya's tourism and enhance its profile as a leading tourist destination."
A large proportion of Kenya's tourism centres around safaris and tours of its great National Parks and Game Reserves. While most tourists do visit for safari there are also great cultural aspects of the country to explore in cities like Mombasa and Lamu on the coast. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is usually where the Maasai Village can be found that most tourists like to visit.
Kenya National Parks are controlled by Kenya Wildlife Services, who look after and protect the areas. The wages of workers in the National Parks are usually funded by entrance fees charged for safaris and tours. Unlike Game Reserves, National Parks allow strictly no human habitation.
Lake Nakuru National Park (168 km²), created in 1961 around Lake Nakuru, to the south of Nakuru Town, in the Great Rift Valley. It is best known for its thousands, sometimes millions of flamingos nesting along the shores. The surface of the shallow lake is often hardly recognizable due to the continually shifting mass of pink. The number of flamingoes on the lake varies with water and food conditions and the best vantage point is from Baboon Cliff. Scientists have calculated that the Flamingoes feed on 250,000 kilograms of algae per year for each hectare of surface area. Also of interest is an area of 188 km around the lake fenced off as a sanctuary to protect Rothschild giraffes and black rhinos.
Mount Kenya National Park, established in 1949, protects the region surrounding Mount Kenya. Initially it was a forest reserve before being announced as a national park. Currently the national park is within the forest reserve which encircles it. In April 1978 the area was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The national park and the forest reserve, combined, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Nairobi National Park is a national park in Kenya. It became Kenya's first national park when it was established in 1946. It is located approximately 7 kilometres (4 mi) south of the centre of Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, and is small in relation to most of Africa's national parks. Nairobi's skyscrapers can be seen from the park. The park has a large and varied wildlife population. Only a fence separates the park's animals from the city.Migrating herbivores concentrate in the park during the dry season. It is one of Kenya's most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries. The park's proximity to Nairobi causes conflicts between the park's animals and local people and threatens animals' migration routes.