The abduction of two tourists in Lamu has started gnawing at the tourism sector with hotels at the Coast reporting cancellation of bookings with some governments issuing travel advisories.
(Also read: Kenya holds man over Frenchwoman's kidnap)
The security threats came just as the tourism season was kicking in.
A French citizen, Marie Dedieu, 66, was abducted from her cottage on Manda Island on Saturday.
“We expect some cancellations especially after the travel advisories, but it is too early to gauge the impact,” said Mr Mike Macharia, the chief executive of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Association (KAHC). “It is too early to quantify the numbers, but we should have a clearer picture by the end of the week.”
The sector is crossing its fingers that the cancellations will not extend to other tourist destinations within the country.
French and UK citizens have been advised to stay away from Lamu by their governments amid fears that similar advisories could follow from other countries.
The UK Foreign Office advised its citizens to stay at least 150 kilometres away from the Kenya-Somalia border, up from the previous 60 kilometres.
“We now advise against all but essential travel to within 150km of the Kenya-Somalia border, including along the Coast strip north of Pate Island towards Somali waters,” the statement posted on the Foreign Office website said.
“Beach-front accommodation in that area and boats off the coast are vulnerable,” read the statement, which also advised against all non-essential travel to low-income areas of Nairobi.
On September 10, Mr David Tebbutt, a Briton, was killed and his wife, Judith, abducted. She is yet to be found and her whereabouts remain unknown while Ms Dedieu is believed to have been taken to war-torn Somalia.
Tourism minister Najib Balala, Internal Security minister George Saitoti and Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere have travelled to Lamu to assess the situation.
The new wave of attacks and abductions by Somali insurgents threatens to derail the tourism sector’s projections to earn Sh81 billion this year on the back of increased arrivals. In 2010, the sector earned Sh73.7 billion.
The year was expected to be the best for the industry after earnings showed a 32 per cent growth to Sh40.5 billion for the first half of the year. During this period, tourist arrivals increased by 13.6 per cent to 549,083.
The UK is Kenya’s leading tourist source market, accounting for 14.3 per cent of arrivals followed by the US at 9.3 per cent. France is the sixth biggest source market with 22,660 arrivals in the first half of this year.
The sector is entering a mid-season lull before picking up in December, a high season defined by Europeans escaping wintry conditions in the northern hemisphere.
The sector has in the past three years rebuilt confidence in the destination that was shattered by the post-election violence in 2008 with tourist numbers and earnings falling to a record low.
A recovery strategy was put in place that saw 2010 become the sector’s best performing year.
The Coast is the Kenya’s number one destination for both domestic and international tourists, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the arrivals.
Despite challenges of accessibility of some areas and lack of new investments, beach travel has continued to attract more tourists than the safari circuit.
According to the 2011 Economic Survey, the share of bed-nights occupied at the Coast went up from 50.7 per cent in 2009 to 52.7 per cent in 2010.
Majority of the tourists stayed at the North Coast. Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu accounted for 23.6 per cent of the bed-nights at the Coast.