January 14, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
This just in from the Kenya Tourist Board . . .
As most businesses in Kenya get back to normal operations after the skirmishes that occurred after Kenya’s contested Presidential Election in late December, Kenya’s largest, most powerful, industry is beginning to suffer. Kenya’s tourism industry contributes an astounding US$900 million to the country’s economy, and for the first time ever this past year, tourism surpassed agriculture as the country’s top economic earner.
The effects of a downturn in tourism could be devastating. With tourism directly employing over 250,000 Kenyans in 2006, about 4.2% of the workforce and the tourism economy employing over 550,000 Kenyans indirectly (9.2% of the workforce)*, tourism is critical to providing a basic way of life and decent wages for thousands of Kenyans. On average, ten family members depend economically upon each employed person in Kenya. Any downslide in tourism will affect the livelihood of a huge percentage of the local population.
“It is critical that Kenya rebounds from this crisis,” stated Jake Grieves Cook, spokesperson for the Kenya tourism industry and former Chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board. “We are actively working to ensure we won’t have permanent affects from this.” This week, officers and stakeholders from Kenya’s tourism industry, the Kenya Tourist Board and the Kenya Tourism Federation have been meeting to plan recovery efforts in order to begin wooing tourists back to this normally peace-loving, democratic country.
“We feel Kenya built Africa’s tourism, we’ve been in this business for over 75 years, welcoming visitors from all around the world. We’ve overcome many crises during these times, but no one has ever seen anything like this before,” stated Cook, “Kenyans are ready to get back to business. To those who have been to Kenya and fallen in love with Africa, we ask you to come back. Just by visiting you are helping the recovery that Kenya’s economy so urgently needs. This is the type of support we need right now. After all, Kenya’s tourism growth is due to our repeat clientele.”
What tourism stakeholders are most worried about is the unfortunate fact that the pictures and words transmitted by the international media have greatly damaged Kenya’s image during this past week. “The regrettable clashes that have occurred after the presidential election were atrocities and terribly dreadful to say the least,” said Grieves-Cook. ‘The media, of course, focused solely on that. In fact, only a small proportion of our country – which is greater than the size of France – was affected in any way and there were no problems at all in areas frequented by tourists. We have had no tourists be directly hurt or entangled in these skirmishes. We had over 40,000 tourists traveling in Kenya at the time this situation unfolded with not one harmed or even inconvenienced in any way.
Sunit Sanghrajka, Owner and President of a luxury operator focused on safaris to Africa, just arrived back from Kenya this week. “There were 33 of us in our party in Kenya for a family reunion. While we were following the election results since this was one hotly contested race that caused much excitement on the part of every Kenya. We felt safe… we were having ice cold beers on the beach and having great discussions with all the hotel employees who were still very optimistic about the future of the country. Not only that,” added Sanghrajka, “we had clients in Samburu, Nanyuki, the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Laikipia, Malindi, Watamu, Diani and Nairobi…. not one of them had any issues. Unless you were in Eldoret, parts of Mombasa or Kisumu or in a slum in Nairobi, you were probably completely oblivious to the violence. The international news scared us because the images we saw on the TV at the beach bar made it seem like we were on the brink of civil war, mentioning Darfur and Genocide in Rwanda! The situation was nowhere near that dire….what a bunch of baloney!”
Unfortunately, certain travel advisories issued out of Europe are making operators cancel charters to the country; which is specifically hurting the coastal beach resorts to the north and south of Mombasa, where many Europeans plan their beach holidays. Most coastal hotels are reporting cancellations of about 70-90% for the later weeks of January. Whether the good booking figures for February and March will remain depends on the status of those European travel advisories. Interestingly enough, some advisories, like Germany’s, still allow travel to Kenya. Guests who decided to carry on with their travel plans are in Kenya now, enjoying recreational activities, day trips to Mombasa and the coast and safaris to a variety of Kenya’s renowned game parks.
The United States, normally known for its strong travel advisories, issued a Travel Alert advising travelers to consider the risks of travel to Kenya but did not reissue a Travel Warning for the country. Although a Travel Warning for Kenya has been in place for almost four years with little to no change, Americans have been visiting Kenya in droves over the last few years. American travelers had always been the third largest group of visitors to the country but two years ago, even amidst the ever-present Travel Warning, U.S. visitors surpassed the German market to become the second most important market for Kenya (over 100,000 Americans visited Kenya in 2007). This week U.S. operators have reported they continue to send their tourists to Kenya and have only seen about an average of 10-30% cancellations versus the drastic European cuts.
“What is really exacerbating the problem is the fact that we’re in a global communications arena, and what the media is reporting on is localized to specific and small regions in Kenya. Some newspapers are stating all tour operators are canceling trips to Kenya; which is not the case. There have been no flight bans and no evacuations. Many companies including North American tour operators are still running their safaris. Of course there have been cancellations and rescheduling of travel dates, but all international and domestic flights are keeping to schedule, all airports are open (they have never closed) and groups of visitors are still arriving and having fabulous safaris,” says O’ngonga Achieng, Managing Director of the Kenya Tourist Board. “Obviously, in countries where non-essential travel advisories have been issued, like France and the United Kingdom, we’ve seen a substantial and damaging drop in arrival numbers but we do expect that these travel advisories will be amended and we can start, with the help of our American and Canadian visitors, to recover our position as a top destination. After all, we Kenyans know all about travel – this is where the safari originated.”
2AFRIKA, INC. remains steadfast in its decision! We will not put any of our valued passengers in harm’s way. At this time, we feel that there is no need for anyone to cancel or postpone their Safari arrangements. Our statistics show that passengers traveling with us have either departed and returned or will commence their Safari arrangements in March to which end, there is no need for immediate cancellation. As is typical of 2AFRIKA, INC. we will not penalize any passenger who wants to cancel their Safari arrangements. Whilst it appears relatively calm in Kenya, if any of our passengers wish to cancel their upcoming Safari’s, we will not force a cancellation penalty – rather, we will credit the passengers account for use at a later time or we will re-route passengers to other parts of the Continent.
For further information on this Safari or any other Safari in the ORIGINAL 2AFRIKA Collection, visit us on the web at http://www.2afrika.com/
The ORIGINAL 2AFRIKA, INC. remains committed to Corporate Social Responsibility in Tourism.
If you would like to comment on this Blog Post, please communicate directly with the ORIGINAL 2AFRIKA Founder & President, Kenneth R. Hieber, electronically via firstname.lastname@example.org