According to Reuters, recent bombings in Kenya have dented President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plans to boost tourism and have undermined his pledge to restore security after the September 2013 al-Shabaab mall attack attack.
Travel warnings issued by the US, UK, France and Australia last month have sent foreign tourists packing, emptying Kenya’s palm-fringed beaches and forcing hotels to lay off staff.
After taking office last year, President Kenyatta vowed to lift tourist numbers to 5-million annually within five years, three times’ last year’s level, and jump-start economic growth into double figures in his bid to raise incomes and lift millions out of poverty.
COMMENT: The continuing travel warnings are a point of friction between the West and the Kenyan government, only one of which seems to intimately comprehend the responsibility of foreign embassies to protect travelers.
To make matters worse, Kenyatta, whose pending trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has cast a shadow over relations with a nation seen as an ally in the battle against militant Islam.
Western governments said they could have only limited contact with a leader facing charges of inciting ethnic killings after violence in 2007 elections left about 1,200 dead. Mr Kenyatta denies the charges. His prosecution has been delayed due to lack of witnesses.
As tourists fled, jobs have also evaporated. "I was sent home ... because there weren’t enough visitors at the hotel," said Tumaini Sidi, a maid at the luxury Sai Rock Beach & Spa Hotel in Mombasa.
Beach resorts and safari lodges face the challenge of securing bookings for the crucial July-September period, as Somalia’s al-Shabaab has threatened more strikes if Kenya does not pull troops out of Somalia. Kenya said it would not quit Somalia.
Tourism is Kenya’s second-biggest source of foreign exchange after agriculture, earning $1.02 billion in 2013 or about 12% of gross domestic product.
About 900 tourists cut short their holidays after Britain issued its warning on the coastal city of Mombasa on May 14, weighing on an industry that saw tourist numbers slide to 1.5-million last year after an all-time peak of 1.8-million in 2011.
Worries of violence during last year’s election deterred many from visiting the country’s beaches and game parks. A peaceful vote raised hopes for an upturn, only to be dashed when al-Shabaab gunmen stormed Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September 2013.
At least 67 people were killed in the attack, including many foreigners. Injuries were estimated in the hundreds.
Europeans, who account for nearly half of Kenya’s tourists, become wary, the government is eyeing more visitors from China, but that is a long-term plan. There were only 38,000 Chinese visitors in the 2012-13 time-frame.
Although several NGOs and think-tanks have flooded the market with lessons-learned from the Nairobi attack in September, the police structure in Kenya has been very slow to improve security deterrents.
The bottom-line is that all foreign nationals read the same international media reports which suggest that Kenya is radioactive because of its failure to get tough on Islamic terrorism.
Few foreign tourists, regardless of nationality, don't want to go home in the cargo compartment.