Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson Tuesday hit out at “overzealous” Western governments for killing Kenya’s tourism industry through many travel advisories relating to terror attacks.
In a commentary published in London’s Independent newspaper, the owner of Virgin Atlantic airline, said the alerts had adversely affected Virgin’s business forcing it to pull out of the Nairobi route.
Sir Richard said the warnings issued by UK and US among other Western governments, following the kidnapping of a British woman by Somali militants in 2010, had a direct adverse impact on Virgin Atlantic.
“Terrorists carried out a kidnapping in Kenya — and the US Department of State, by including the word “warning” in their travel advisory, effectively negated all insurance, devastating industries from tourism to film, and even making it uneconomical for Virgin Atlantic to continue flying there (Kenya).”
The airline withdrew its services from the London-Nairobi route in November 2012, citing low passenger numbers due to the travel advisories, Europe’s economic woes, increased fuel costs and rising taxes.
The continuous advisories against travel to Kenya over security fears, combined with the Eurozone crisis saw tourist numbers drop by 29,000 to 1.23 million last year. Earnings dropped by two per cent to Sh96.02 billion.
Europe remains Kenya’s main source of tourists accounting for 43 per cent of all arrivals. The UK, Kenya’s main source market and a major driver of business for Virgin Atlantic, saw its tourist numbers drop by 8.5 per cent to 185,976.
Italy, the third largest market, recorded a 14.6 per cent drop in the number of visitors to 82,330 while German arrivals declined by four per cent to 65,000. France recorded the highest decline of 28.9 per cent to 34,290.
Despite issuing continuous travel advisories for over a decade the US market, to which Virgin connected Nairobi through its London hub, saw arrivals grow by 6.3 per cent to 123,905.
Virgin Atlantic connected Nairobi directly to London and beyond competing with British Airways and Kenya Airways, who have moved to cash in on the reduced competition for direct flights despite dwindling passenger numbers.
The entry of the airline in 2007 was expected to give Kenya Airways and British Airways competition on the route. Since its withdrawal, British Airways has announced an increase in frequencies on the route.
The Nairobi-London route mainly caters for leisure and business travellers. In his editorial, Sir Richard drew parallels with the 2002 Bali bombings where 202 people lost their lives. Travel alerts issued later plunged the country’s tourism industry into a steep decline.
The entrepreneur questioned why the US and UK governments deliberately took different approaches on the terrorism issue when they suffered attacks, with their statements having a reconciliatory tone that assured visitors of their safety.
But incidents occurring in Africa saw the UK Foreign Office respond by saying there was a high public demand for travel advice and that the safety of British nationals abroad was the main motivation for issuing such warnings.
Kenya has suffered a series of terror attacks since the US embassy bombing in 1998 and the Kikambala terror attack due to Al-Shabaab’s activities.
Despite the withdrawal of Virgin Atlantic from Kenya, Sir Richard has continued to invest in Kenya’s tourism sector.
His company, Virgin Limited Edition, is set to open a high-end luxury tented camp in Motogogi Conservancy in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
The camp named Mahali Mzuri has 12 tents and can host up to 24 guests. It is expected to be ready for guests this year, according to information on its website. Its prices for 2013 are available and range from $590 (Sh49,560) to $995 (Sh83,580) per person sharing, per night.