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Problems in neighbouring Somalia are threatening to bring down the progress that the tourism industry has made in Kenya in the past few years. Since September, a British tourist has been killed and two European women have been kidnapped from popular beachside resorts in northern Kenya Additionally, just last week, two Spanish aid workers were abducted at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp by armed militia from Somalia.
As a result of these recent incidents, various countries have already issued travel advisories to citizens intending to visit Kenya, including residents of the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, France and other European countries, warning them to exercise caution due to the high risk of terrorist attacks and warning them against all but essential travel to the region within 150km of the border with Somalia.
This setback comes just after the Kenyan travel industry has recovered from a 27% decrease in tourist arrivals as a result of 2008’s post-election violence (PEV) as well as a continued slowdown in 2009 as a consequence of the global recession.
Kenya’s travel and tourism industry currently accounts for 12% of the country’s GDP and 9% of its workforce. Recent statistics released by Kenya’s National Bureau revealed an increase of 14% in tourist arrivals for the first half of 2011, while earnings increased by 32% during the same period, confirming the industry was on a recovery path before the attacks.
The kidnappings have resulted in most hotels and tour operators around Lamu receiving a flood of cancellations and forcing owners to send their staff on long-term leave fearing the tourist season in the areas for this year is over. On the other hand, Tourism Minister Balala said plans have begun to promote Lamu Island as a safe tourist destination.
The recent election of Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala as chair of the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Executive Council is giving tourism players in the country hope that he will use his position to assure the world of Kenya’s safety as a tourist destination. He has called for intervention from the international community in Somalia as the conflict there is posing security risks in Kenya and negatively impacting neighbouring countries.
Tanzania, Kenya and the Seychelles have called for United Nations’ intervention to end political instability in Somalia. While acknowledging that their respective governments have put adequate measures in place to ensure the security of tourists, they have stressed the importance of recognising a lasting solution which requires effort and intervention by the international community.
They also recognise that the political instability in Somalia has resulted in a prevalence for piracy along the Eastern coast of the Indian Ocean, which has, over time, inhibited the growth of cruise tourism.
The possible loss of tourism earnings, the second largest foreign exchange earner after tea, has led Kenyan forces to enter southern Somalia in an attempt to secure the border and boost Kenya’s reputation with tourists and investors. Although the Kenyan government has said it is not at war with Somalia, and the aim is to guarantee the security of Somalians, Kenyans and foreign visitors, there are concerns that this action will lead to further attacks from aL-Shabab or aL-Qaeda groups in the country.