Kenya tourism: Uncertain but hopeful

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(eTN) – Hotels in Nairobi, beach resorts along the Indian Ocean coast from Lamu to Ukunda and the safari lodges and camps are all reporting loss of occupancy, as do the excursion and safari operators, foreign exchange dealers, curio shops and related businesses normally frequented by tourists.

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(eTN) – Hotels in Nairobi, beach resorts along the Indian Ocean coast from Lamu to Ukunda and the safari lodges and camps are all reporting loss of occupancy, as do the excursion and safari operators, foreign exchange dealers, curio shops and related businesses normally frequented by tourists.

Airlines, too, report sharply reduced occupancies for flights into Nairobi and some of the private Kenyan airlines are said to have reduced frequencies to some of the domestic destinations, including Kisumu and Mombasa. Kenya Airways has, in soft terms, given a profit warning for the remaining quarter from January to March of their financial year, while other international airlines have not ruled out “flight consolidations,” a vague term for a reduction in frequencies or using smaller aircraft.

Some holiday charters from Europe to Mombassa have already been cancelled for the rest of the season until Easter, after the last flights arrived near empty and ferried the remaining tourists from the Kenya coast back home. None of the charter companies were prepared to shoulder the losses incurred by operating below their break-even occupancies and with global demand for air travel remaining generally high some of those companies are said to have re-deployed their planes to other profitable routes, ready to return to Kenya once conditions are again conducive.

Most of the Kenyan tourist companies and their executives approached however are coy in their responses and several have declined to go on record, probably fearing a slap on the wrist from their peers who are at great pains to maintain their positive attitude and hand out statement after updated statement on the security situation to arrest the slide and reverse the trend.

Indeed, no tourists have been reported to have come to any harm, due to the vigilance of Kenya Tourism Federation, Kenya Association of Tour Operators and government security organs, but it is recognized that a single incident could open the flood gates to more cancellations. Tour operators abroad are also wary of this risk and are known to avoid situations where they could be taken to court for sending their clients into harm’s way, as is also evident now with cancellation of holidays to Sri Lanka, where a resurgence of the civil war has claimed many lives in recent weeks.

The three days of mass protests last week called by the opposition also faltered in the face of strong security presence. Warnings to call off the demonstrations fell on deaf ears, as opposition leader Odinga seemed quite willing to sacrifice a few of his foot soldiers so that he could cry wolf over alleged government and police brutality, in itself of course a laughable and immature attempt, having loosened his goon squads in his strongholds to commence ethnic and political cleansing after the results did not go his way.

Several weeks now after the elections that saw President Kibaki re-elected and parliament with a waver thin majority falling to the opposition, strategy change seems to be on the way at last. Odinga and his supporters are now trying to mobilize consumer boycotts against companies associated with supporters of the president. This, too, is predictably a failing attempt from the onset, as the same could of course also be reversed against Odinga supporters and is considered little more than a face saving effort to gloss over the total failure of the opposition to hold public demonstrations.

At the same time, the opposition attended the parliamentary opening session, which signaled their witting or rather unwitting recognition of the declared and gazetted election results. Sections of the opposition however promptly called for more protests on the streets, underscoring the emerging rifts between moderates and hard core violence seekers, which may impact yet on Kenya’s immediate future, as scores of more innocent people were killed by an incited machete wielding mob in a camp for internally displaced people.

Related to all this is also the destruction of the main railway line over nearly a kilometer by Odinga’s mob, aimed to disrupt further transportation of fuel and other imports to Uganda and the hinterland countries but also the shipment of bulk exports like coffee, tea and other goods to the regions main sea port in Mombasa. Road transport during these difficult days for Kenya was already greatly impaired, leading to fuel and other shortages in Uganda, Southern Sudan, Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and this latest attack on Kenya’s infrastructure, on which hinterland countries depend greatly, is a further indication of Odinga’s sinister designs to use any means to force himself into State House. More Uganda bound trucks are also said to have been ambushed, looted and burnt, an opposition action clearly aimed against Uganda, where President Museveni was the first African president to congratulate President Kibaki upon his duly declared re-election.

In any case and in spite of the sporadic outbreak of ethnically and politically inspired violence, Kenya can hopefully soon return to some degree of normalcy with major demonstrations well contained and receiving less public support. Tourism can then begin to rebuild in coming weeks and months, what Odinga and his supporters wantonly destroyed with no regard for life or property.

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