Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Thu October 22 2015

How Kenya is Winning Back Tourists

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | October 22, 2015

How Kenya is Winning Back Tourists

Photo by David Cogswell

Kenya’s tourism industry has had a tough go of it over the past few years. Election unrest, rising crime rates and terrorist attacks have not only made headlines, they have also caused governments to issue stern travel warnings.

Tourism is a major industry in Kenya, known for not only its safari destinations, but also its Indian Ocean beaches and its major cities, Nairobi and Mombassa, both of which are considered tourist gateways to East Africa.

A tourism slump

Following highly publicized attacks attributed to Somalia-based terrorist groups, on a mall in 2013 and a university dorm complex in April of this year, both the U.S. and UK issued a series of travel advisories for their citizens. Though these advisories did not cover the entire country, when coupled with the non-stop news coverage of the poor security situation, they were enough to get many people to cross Kenya off their to-visit list.

The U.S. advisories were issued for the Eastleigh district of Nairobi and for the coastal hub of Mombasa, a major tourist destination that many considered a probable target for terrorists. The neighboring coastal states of Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu were also included in the warnings. The UK issued similar advisories for its citizens, and several other countries followed suit.

In the wake of these warnings, international arrivals fell drastically. The coastal areas were hit especially hard. As many as 20 hotels had to shut their doors, and, by some estimates, up to 40,000 people in hospitality and other tourist-related sectors lost their jobs.

Travel warnings lifted (mostly)

America has now lifted most of its warnings. Kenya is not totally free of no-go spots, however. The U.S. still advises against travel near the Kenya-Somalia border, an area that is generally off the tourist map anyway. The American embassy in Nairobi also says that night travel in Old Town Mombasa is still dangerous, and the popular Likoni ferry service in the city should be avoided.

But the worst appears to be past, and Kenya is eager to welcome tourists back. There are even calls to change the air travel policies to get more airlines to fly into the country.

Opening up the skies

Kenya has been known for aggressively protecting its flag carrier, Kenya Airways, and its subsidiaries. This policy appears to be changing. Kenya is currently in talks with its neighbors to reduce air travel costs in the region. The plan is to have a kind of regional “open skies” agreement between Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

The new free-market environment would allow tourists from overseas to fly between destinations more cheaply and also encourage regional tourists to travel more.

Kenya now seems well aware of what it will take to get back on the tourist map. One can only hope that they are doing as much behind the scenes with security as they are to promote tourism with more airline access and new overseas advertising campaigns. 

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