Tourism off to a wrong footing after terror attacks in Lamu

Thursday, January 9th, 2020 12:00 | By
International tourists enjoy the ocean breeze at Diani Beach, Kwale County. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Security in Kenya will this year be a big concern for stakeholders in the tourism industry, hoteliers in Masai Mara Game Reserve and tour operators in the country say.

Recent terror attacks by al Shabaab in Lamu, a major tourist destination and Garissa are worrying investors in the Mara who warn that if it is not nipped in the bud, it could hurt the industry.

Already, bookings in Mara hotels by European tourists escaping winter have this week reduced because of security concerns, hoteliers say.

Operators say Tanzania and Zanzibar will reap big if terrorists are not stopped in their tracks, adding that they are receiving inquiries about how safe the country is.

If major markets issue or revise travel advisories to their nationals against visiting some parts of the country, they add, it will further jeopardise the industry, which has for the last two decades been in the doldrums.

Dinner time at Travellers Beach Hotel in Mombasa. Photo/PD/ NDEGWA 

“Though the attacks are isolated, they will, if not stopped, lead to dismal performance in the tourism industry,” said Patrick Wanjohi, managing director of Into Africa Eco Travel.

Middle-East crisis 

He told TravelWise that the sector  had since 2011, when Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) entered Somalia, been dogged by insecurity and asked the State to pull them out for the continued survival of the industry.

“The goose that has since independence laid golden eggs lost its feathers after KDF entered Somalia to fight al Shabaab,” he added.

Lily Waddington, proprietor of Osero Camp and managing director of UK Magical Travel, said since the US killed a top Iranian army general last week, there have been concerns about the safety of tourists and other western nationals around the world.

Rising oil prices will also depress purchasing power of tourists and increase local hotel costs.

“Most have opted to remain in their countries. The recent attack on a US naval base in Lamu should concern all in the hotel industry,” she added.

However, players in the sector are optimistic the industry will keep an upward trajectory even after it recorded average performance during the 2019 festive season.

Referundum jitters 

Major hotels registered up to 100 per cent bookings during Christmas and New Year holidays at the Coast as local and international visitors flocked in.

However, many visitors sought accommodation in apartments and cottages, leaving some hotel rooms empty.     

Stakeholders say they expect arrivals to continue but at a lower rate until mid-April this year. However, a decline in local visitors is anticipated this month as citizens return to work and schools reopen.

Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterer’s Coast branch Chief Executive Officer Sam Ikwaye says the sector recorded average performance during the festive season as many Kenyans kept away due to a decline in disposable income.

However, the hotelier says if the country enjoys relative calm same as last year, there are high prospects of a thriving business until the Easter celebrations before the onset of the May - June low season.

“All the resorts at the Coast were fully booked, except a few who experienced a drop in clientele.

But we are optimistic that if the country will not go into referendum campaigns, the sector will maintain an upward growth,” said Ikwaye.

Kenya Coast Working Group Chairman Hasnain Noorani says the industry has started feeling the effects of the absence of politics and its threats with an increase in both domestic and regional tourist bookings.

“This has been attributed to peaceful environment as well as enhanced security,” said Noorani. 

Aged and nurtured

According to Ng’ang’a Kamau of Wild Springs Adventures, the effects of inflation and lay offs will minimise domestic travel.

However, he foresees a rise in locals taking up adrenalin-activity destinations such as Compass, Kereita Forest and Kisames.  

“Zip lining, high ropes, vertical life and  bungee jumping are popular activities. Country music is another upcoming vibe creating travel opportunites,” he says.   

Esther Njeri, Events and communications manager at Stegra Hotel in Turkana says the region is open to tourists.

“The Tobung’u Lore festival brings together different communities and cultures in the northern region. As a hotel, we have organised a twende Lodwar na Stegra road trip to showcase beautiful attractions tof Turkana,” she says. - Peter Leshan, Harrison Kivisu and Harriet James. 

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