Kenya banks on full tourism recovery within a year


Kenya’s critical tourism sector, hit by the post-election violence that wreaked havoc across the country, could be back to pre-poll levels within a year, officials said.
“Right now, we are 52 percent down but I believe in a year’s time we should get back to normal,” Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala told AFP during a weekend meeting of political and business leaders.
“I believe in the next five years, we should have a plan for five million people coming to Kenya,” he said, adding that he was encouraged by the early response from tourism professionals and tourists in Kenya’s main markets.
The gathering in the Maasai Mara national park — one of the country’s main attractions — was sponsored by the country’s business community and local authorities to send a message that Kenya was again a safe travel destination.
The highest number of tourist arrivals achieved by Kenya was in 2007, when two million people visited the east African country, renowned for its wildlife safaris and sun-drenched Indian Ocean beaches.
Tourism, the country’s top foreign currency earner, was hit hard by the violence that broke out following disputed December 27 polls, leaving at least 1,500 people dead and around 300,000 displaced.
“Countries can deteriorate very quickly, but I also think that countries can pull back together very quickly and surprisingly so. If people come together, if there’s goodwill, I think economically, socially and politically, the country can come together,” US ambassdor to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told AFP.
“I’m actually pretty optimistic that we’re going to see a lot of progress just in the short term,” he said, adding that Kenya’s tourism industry was on its way to a speedy recovery.
“I think within a year certainly from now, we’ll probably see it at pre-election level,” he said, adding that he had sent letters to 60,000 US tour operators to encourage them to resume business with Kenya.
British High Commissioner (ambassador) Adam Wood, who also present at the event, said he hoped that Britons, Kenya’s largest tourist contingent, would start pouring back into the country for their holidays.
“Britain is easily the largest origin of tourists, 200,000 Brits a year have been coming to Kenya over recent years, that’s more than twice any other country, so bringing people in Britain to see how Kenya is safe and that it is a good destination really matters,” he said.
“We’re trying to show solidarity with the common man who is less fortunate than we are. I don’t see that being done anywhere else in the world, I think it’s unique that the business community can get together and send a message,” said Stephen Mills, chairman of one of the event’s main sponsors, the British Business Association of Kenya.
Balala, who recently visited London, said he was seeking to enlist high-profile personalities such as Prince William to promote Kenyan tourism.