Development of modern-day tourism in Kenya dates back to the pre-colonial times when sport-hunting enthusiasts started to visit Kenya’s wilderness. Demand for this specific activity increased over time, leading to the need for conservation and protection of wildlife. Consequently, the Nairobi National Park was gazette as the first protected area in 1946. It was closely followed by the gazettement of Tsavo National Park in 1948. Parallel to the emergence of wildlife tourism, white settlers in the highland areas of Kenya started to travel to the Coast for relaxation, creating demand for accommodation facilities and services. With the development of these facilities and establishment of more wildlife protected areas, visitations from both within and outside Kenya increased.
At the time of Kenya’s independence, over 50, 000 annual tourists from abroad to Kenya were being recorded. Soon after independence, tourism started to emerge as a significant socio-economic sector. The importance of the sector was accentuated by the falling international prices of export commodities such as tea and coffee, which the Government of Kenya had identified to provide foreign exchange earnings. The tourism sector was therefore naturally seen as a viable alternative for Kenya’s international trade.
To facilitate the tourism sector growth, the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) was established in 1965 as a State Corporation with the mandate of financing investment in the sector, through an Act of Parliament. The thrust of tourism development at this stage was Kenyanization, whereby, Kenyans were being supported to invest in tourism. A fully fledged Ministry of Tourism was established in 1966 with the mandate of developing tourism and conserving wildlife. The Sessional Paper No. 8 of 1969 “Development of Tourism in Kenya” was thereafter formulated by the Government to deal with emerging challenges related to tourism sector. This blueprint guided the Ministry for many years until 1995 when the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife developed the National Tourism Master Plan. Through the plan, the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) was established with the mandate of marketing Kenya both internationally and locally, as a preferred tourist destination.