Kenya bids to revive tourism

Kenya scrambled to revive its tourist industry after a spate of bombings scared off visitors, as the al-Shabaab militant group vowed to broaden its war in Somalia to the neighbouring East African nation.

The government would spend 200 million shillings (R23m) on a campaign to include online marketing and global roadshows advertising the country, Kenya Tourism Board managing director Muriithi Ndegwa told reporters on Thursday in the capital, Nairobi.

A tourist holds a 1 000 Kenyan shilling note at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. An assault by al-Shabaab on the mall in September killed at least 67 people and left 175 wounded. Photo: Bloomberg. Credit: Bloomberg

President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Wednesday that more measures would be announced to draw foreign visitors and boost local tourism amid “security challenges”.

“Kenya’s brand equity, as a destination, is at stake and is quite eroded due to these incidents,” Ndegwa said. “We are here to say Kenya is open for business despite the ongoing challenges.”

Tourism is Kenya’s second-biggest source of foreign currency after tea, generating $1.1 billion (R11.4bn) last year. Arrivals fell by almost a fifth to 1.4 million last year as the country was hit by a series of bombings, including an assault by al-Shabaab on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people. The al-Qaeda-linked group said the attack was in retaliation for the deployment of Kenyan troops in Somalia.

Nairobi has been hit by two attacks this month – twin explosions in the Gikomba open-air market on the outskirts of the city centre on May 16 that killed at least 12 people, the week after two bus bombings on a highway leading out of the city left at least three people dead.

Multiple attacks

Recently TUI, the owner of Europe’s largest tour operator, repatriated about 400 customers from the Kenyan coast to the UK and cancelled all flights to Mombasa until October 31. The evacuations came after the UK’s Foreign Office on May 14 advised against travel to Mombasa and surrounding areas because of threats to security. Other countries including the US and Australia have issued similar advisories.

“We are liaising with foreign offices to lift travel advisories,” Ndegwa said. “There is engagement with the private sector and of course the government fully supports us.”

Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, a leader of al-Shabaab, said in remarks broadcast on Thursday that the group was committed to “shifting the war” in Somalia to Kenya and Uganda because both countries had soldiers fighting in Somalia.

African forces

Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 after accusing al-Shabaab of killing and abducting tourists and aid workers. Uganda has the biggest contingent of forces in the 22 126-strong AU peacekeeping mission that is battling the insurgents, who are trying to topple the Somali government and create a state ruled by Shariah, or Islamic, law.

The spate of attacks in Kenya has reduced occupancies at companies, including Hemingways Holdings, which has spent $25 million building hotels in Nairobi, at the coast and in the Masaai Mara region famed for its safaris, according to chief executive Alastair Addison.

From this month, Hemingways shut down its coastal hotel for six weeks and put staff on leave because of poor bookings, he said in an interview on Monday.

The attacks come ahead of Kenya’s high season for tourists – the end of June, July and August accounted for almost 80 percent of the industry’s annual revenue, Addison said.

“If we lose that, a lot of companies will not be able to continue,” he said. “Frankly they will just shut up shop.” – Ilya Gridneff from Bloomberg