Kenya: tourism sector reeling in the wake of coastal terror attacks


For Bernice Mbugua, 29, life in Kenya’s coastal town of Lamu has been brutal for the last two months.

Not only has she been laid off by the hotel that had formerly employed her as a waitress due to poor business, but Mbugua’s family, like hundreds of others in the rural villages that dot the renowned tourist resort have been living in fear of attacks.

Over 100 people have been killed in six attacks since early June in Kenya’s coastal region, including the latest on Friday which killed seven people. The whole nation has been shocked by the attacks which bring back the spectre of ethnic violence as witnessed in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 elections.

In the attacks, for which Somalia’s Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, residents were hacked to death with knives, while others shot and executed at close quarters.

Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has however blamed the attacks on local political networks terming them “well-planned, orchestrated and politically-motivated ethnic violence”.

But as victims try to come to terms with these latest attacks, tourists, still scarred by the memory of the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall last September, have been avoiding Kenya.

Tourism operators are now warning that the country’s once booming tourism sector, which directly employs 150,000 people in a country faced with 40 per cent unemployment, faces collapse if immediate measures are not taken to improve security in Kenya.

Thousands of hotel workers on the coast have already been made redundant and several hotels have gone bankrupt as countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Australia have issued travel warnings, urging their citizens to stay away from the country’s once-popular coastal region.


Great damage

According to the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) the aforementioned travel advisories have had a massive negative impact on the tourism sector.

“The tourism industry has suffered great damage and it will take a great deal of effort to get it back on its feet,” Kipronoh Kittony, chair of the KNCCI, told Equal Times.

The Kenyan military has since begun operations in areas where al-Shabaab are believed to be hiding.

David Kimayo, the Inspector General of Police in Kenya, has offered assurances that security measures have been put in place following the attacks.

“Security is now tight on the ground and there should be no fear at all for those visiting the coast as tourists or for the purpose of doing business,” Kimaiyo told Equal Times.

But this has done little to assuage the fears of those working in the tourism sector, as well as locals.

Most people remain pessimistic and fear that this year will continue to see a drop in tourism.

“The current state is not conducive for the tourism industry to thrive. Business is tough,” Kenya Tourism Federation Chief Executive Agatha Juma told Equal Times.

According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2014, tourist arrivals fell 18 per cent to 1.4 million last year, falling far short of the government target of 3 million visitors by 2017.

Revenue from the industry dropped to 94 billion shillings (US$1 billion) from 96.2 billion shillings the previous year, a decline attributed to the travel warnings.

Mike Macharia, Kenya Association of Hotels and Caterers Chief Executive, expects the situation to be worse this year.

“We expect low tourist numbers to impact on both operator and government earnings, and the effect may be harsher than it was during the last two years,” he told Equal Times.


Radical measures

Confirming that insecurity has negatively affected one of the country’s largest foreign exchange earners, President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled radical measures last month to rescue the tourism industry.

He revealed that his government will immediately redirect money earmarked for foreign travel to boost travel within the country and have government departments focus on holding conferences in local hotels.

“We all have a responsibility to bring this to an end. Tourism has been greatly affected by these terror activities. The industry which contributes 10 percent to the GDP is virtually on its knees,” Kenyatta said.

Tourism Cabinet secretary Phyllis Kandie has said that the government also plans to diversify the country’s tourism sector to reduce over-reliance on the US and UK markets.

“As a country, we have no option but diversifying our market to strengthen our economy,” Kandie told Equal Times.

But she added that the government is doing everything possible to make Kenya safe for citizens and visitors alike.

“Terrorism is a global issue and Kenya is no exception so we need to develop collaborated efforts to curb it rather than issuing travel advisories,” she said.