Chaos or no chaos, I shall return


As tourists cancelled their holiday and left the country in droves, one resilient British guest was being wheeled into a resort in the South Coast to complete the second half of his four-month holiday.

Tour operators say they have lost up to Sh5.7 billion as a result of the cancellation caused by political violence.

A lot of time and effort are needed to repair the damage to the tourism industry and the economy following the violence.

And such effort would definitely need visitors like Kenny Tibber.

Not even the violence could interrupt the valued pilgrimage to the coast of a man who has been visiting Kenya for the past 35 years.

Complete holiday

When we caught up with Mr Tibber at Leisure Lodge Beach and Golf Resort a day after checking in, he was upbeat that despite the skirmishes, he would stay on and complete his holiday.

“This is the most beautiful country in the world,” says the 66-year-old retired retailer, as he is helped onto a bed at the beach from his motorised wheelchair.

Mr Tibber’s eyes dart from the sandy pristine beach to the endless sea ahead. He is obviously enjoying himself.

The Briton spends the first half of his holiday at Nyali Beach Hotel. His love for the country that visitors have variously described as “heaven on earth” or simply a “paradise” — with some opting to spend the rest of their lives here — is immeasurable and cannot even be wiped away by political violence.

He says he fell in love with the country on his first visit in 1972 and can not imagine spending his holiday anywhere else: his family always longs for the safaris.

Listening to Mr Tibber speak, one gets to understand why he is passionate about Kenya. He has made very good friends over the years and when he broke his tradition for a holiday in the country 13 years ago, his friends encouraged him.

At the time, he had suffered paralysis in his legs that has since confined him to a wheelchair. During the two years he was under medication, he did not come for holiday and he could not wait for his next visit in 1996.

Due to his health condition, Mr Tibber made arrangements with Nyali Beach Hotel, which set up a room specifically for him. And when he arrived, the jubilation of friends and hotel workers was proof that he had been missed. His wife, Carole, is equally passionate about the country where she spends her holiday every year.

She describes the election violence as a shame.

“We have known the country to be peaceful and democratic and we really cannot believe it happened in Kenya.”

She notes that her friends in UK and other countries abroad are equally concerned. “They have been calling us wanting to know how the situation is so that they can come to enjoy holidays.”

Difficult to survive

Observing that there are several other destinations that people would opt for if peace does not return, she nevertheless says holiday makers would be comfortable in the country due to their love for it.

“If the tourism industry goes down, it is the nice people of Kenya who will feel the pinch because there will be massive job cuts,” Mr Tibber says.

“Kenyans will find it difficult to survive. Families and other people who depend on tourism will suffer and the crime rate might rise,” he adds.

Mr Tibber, who seems to be familiar with local politics, pleads with politicians to solve the problem. “I know that President Kibaki entered into an agreement with Raila Odinga after the 2002 elections which he did not honour,” he says.

He believes the December election was flawed, based on reports by European Union observers, and describes it a serious blow to democracy in Africa.

He suggests that the Electoral Commission of Kenya computerise the voting system to enable Kenyans vote wherever they are.

Although hundreds of tourists have been evacuated for their safety and some countries issued travel advisories against Kenya, the allure of the sandy beaches and beauty of game parks far outweighs the security risks for a number of visitors.

A walk on the beach shows that most tourists have left the country, but those still enjoying their holidays do not think there is threat to their lives.

However, their main concern is lack of personal insurance, which is denied whenever one is travelling to risky areas.

“There is ample security in hotels and I believe there is no security threat,” said a Swiss guest enjoying a walk on the beaches.

Mr Dieter Filitz, a German who has visited the country 16 times since 1995, says it is sad to see guests leaving.

“But I do not feel any security threat, and I will stay until my holiday ends,” he says.

“However, seeing what we have seen on TV and reading the newspapers, it is scary.”

But some tourists are not amused by the negative publicity in the international media and say that although there is insecurity, the fact that some guests stayed should be highlighted.