No recovery for Kenya tourism until 2018

Tourists at Travellers Beach Hotel in Mombasa in January 2014. The poor performance of the sector in the second quarter slowed growth to 5.8 per cent. PHOTO | FILE
Tourists at Travellers Beach Hotel in Mombasa in January 2014. The poor performance of the sector in the second quarter slowed growth to 5.8 per cent. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenya’s tourism sector probably will not recover until 2018 due insecurity and the General Election coming in three years, hoteliers and tour operators warn.

The operators on Wednesday told a government appointed taskforce that they had lost international tourism business for the 2015 and 2016 season following a string of attacks blamed on Somali Islamist insurgents.

They also warned of low business in the 2017 electioneering year given that the sector experiences low booking in campaign seasons.

Pollman’s Tours and Safaris managing director Khalid Shapi said leading tour operators and travel agents in Europe see Kenya’s tourism recovering in November or December 2016.

“The largest tour firms and travel agents in the traditional source markets are no longer selling Kenya due to the rising insecurity,” he said.

Charter flights from Europe to Mombasa had dropped to four a week compared to 32 in the same period last year, he said.

This is linked to the travel warnings issued in May by Britain, the United States, France and Australia.

The western nations were showing signs of easing the travel alerts before simultaneous attacks on Mombasa’s Nyali barracks and the Malindi Administration Police camp on November 2, and Saturday’s ambush of a Nairobi bound bus in Mandera where 28 people were killed.

Somalia’s Al Shabaab militants claimed responsibility for the Mandera attack that saw gunmen order passengers on the bus to recite Koran verses and shot dead non-Muslims — 19 men and nine women — who could not.

The group said the killing was in retaliation for raids on mosques in Mombasa. The government appointed the Tourism Recovery Taskforce to help devise strategies to prop the struggling industry, a major source of hard currency. But hoteliers are also braced for a bad year during the 2017 election.

Kenya’s 2013 polls were peaceful despite fears that violence that ripped Kenya in 2007 would erupt again.

“The industry might not recover in 2017 either due to uncertainties over the forthcoming General Election,” said Ms Emma Metcalfe, the Southern Cross Safaris operations manager.

Hotel occupancy in Mombasa averages 35 per cent compared to 70 per cent in the same period last year, while it stands at 20 per cent and 18 per cent in Kilifi and Kwale respectively.

Tens of hotels have been closed while others have shed jobs, reflecting the poor state of a sector that is one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners and supports auxiliary sectors like handicraft makers, taxi drivers, fishermen and farmers at the coast.

Tourist arrivals in Kenya fell 15.8 per cent to 1.49 million last year as security worries kept visitors away.

The poor performance of the tourism sector in the second quarter of the year slowed economic expansion to 5.8 per cent compared to 7.2 per cent in a similar period last year.