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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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  Kenya after the unrest
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  Jan 2008:
  Unrest in Kenya
 
 
 
Safari Patrol:
Unrest in Kenya
January 2008
The work to make Safari Patrol ready for launch is underway, and planned to be completed in half a year. The obvious topic of this first editorial would of course have been introducing the new web site that is being created and its ambitions. But that topic will have to wait.
  
Kenya is going through a rough time right now. The December 2007 elections led to violence, and 700 people, maybe more, have already lost their lives. Right now, in the middle of January, the unrest has still not ceased, and no one knows how it all will end.

For the Kenyan tourist industry, the news reports of violence have led to an instant and drastic decrease in tourism. Kenyan news already report of empty hotels that would normally, during this time of year, be close to full. They report of large-scale lay-offs in the tourist industry, of empty beaches on the coast, and of business coming close to a halt.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on the unrest in Kenya
Important for the Kenyan economy
The Kenyan Minister for tourism and wildlife wrote in 2006:
"Tourism plays a very important role in Kenyan economy. As the leading foreign exchange earner for the country, it accounts for 13.3% of Gross Domestic Product, 14.7% of foreign exchange earnings and generates 138,000 jobs directly and 360,000 jobs indirectly. As a sector, its multiplier effect to the other sectors of the economy like transport, industry, agriculture cannot be overemphasized."

Kenya is a developing country. It has been doing quite well, and tourism has kept growing and growing. But the images associated with this holiday destination have quickly changed from elephants, lions and long white beaches to angry men with machetes.

So the present tourist season, going on into March, is lost. The governments of many countries, including my own, warn people from going to Kenya. Travel companies have cancelled their Kenyan tours for the rest of the season. And right now, safari-goers to be would normally be booking tours for July, for October and even for next Christmas. Now they don't, because of the machetes.

Bad spells
Kenya has had bad spells before. The US embassy in Nairobi was bombed ten years ago, and a beach resort in Mombasa was later bombed and a missile fired at a tourist airliner. There have been riots in connection with previous elections. For some time, bandits haunted the northern parts of the main safari region. Such events have caused temporary drops in tourism, but overall, the industry has kept growing. Kenya is a strong and attractive destination. The tourists will return.

There has been some criticism from the Kenyan tourist industry regarding the way foreign travel companies and governments have reacted, warning citizens from going to Kenya, cancelling tours, and even evacuating tourists out of the country, thus stopping tourism to Kenya for now.

I don't think such criticism is fair. A government can't but advice its citizens to keep out of harm's way. Travel companies can't promote or sell tours to an area of unrest, not knowing if it can be visited at all on the planned date of departure, especially not as airlines and East African tour operators and hotel chains keep demanding full final payments further and further ahead of the actual date of the services paid for. Okay, such terms are probably highly negotiable right now, and both foreign travel companies and Kenya share an interest in getting business back to usual. The bottom line is, however, that tourists won't, and shouldn't, go to places that they don't consider safe.

It's up to Kenya
It's up to Kenya to convince the tourists that the country offers a good scene for general holidaymakers, families etc. It can't right now. Many other popular tourist destinations around the world, competing about the tourists' holiday budgets, can.

In fact, tourists are right now paying extra money to have their flight routes changed, to avoid landing in Nairobi even for a stopover. They don't want to spend a single minute on Kenyan soil. So Kenya has problems, and has to face and tackle them before expecting tourists to return. This time, Kenya has been seen as the world has previously seen Rwanda, Congo and Somalia. Places where you just don't want to go.

Yet, Kenya differs from the true African no-go zones. Unlike for example Somalia, Kenya is overall stable, and has taken important steps towards true democracy. The unrest seen now is local and, hopefully, temporary. The violence is about internal affairs, and not directed towards tourism. If the Kenyan leaders can bring the violence to an end and wisely tackle its origins, Kenya will soon be good for safari tours, beach holidays and other tourism again.

 
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Page updated 18 February 2009