Last updated: 03:04 PM ET, Sun November 29 2015

How Kenya's Tourism Industry Bounced Back After Terror Attacks

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 29, 2015

How Kenya's Tourism Industry Bounced Back After Terror Attacks

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Security has been in the headlines after the attacks in Paris and subsequent police operations around Europe. The U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert, warning Americans to be cautious even if they are not traveling in a high-risk country. (In DoS-speak “alert” is not a strong as a “warning.” Alerts highlight the possibility of some sort of security problem, while warnings are for countries that have ongoing dangers).

Caution instead of unbridled cultural immersion is first in mind of those contemplating a trip to Paris or Brussels. Some people answer travelers' concerns with blanket statements like, “you are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning than to be caught in a terrorist attack” or “if you cancel your trip, you’re letting the terrorists win by doing exactly what they want.” When there are real questions about a country's security, however, these generalizations don't seem that comforting. 

Kenya’s terrorism problems

While State Department or Foreign Office information can certainly be helpful, it might not paint a real picture of what is happening on the ground in a given destination. Some countries have to deal with ongoing security threats, but they still manage to have a tourist industry. Kenya provides a recent example.

Since Kenya began military operations in support of the government in neighboring Somalia in 2012, it has become a terrorist target for rebels associated with Somali militant organization Al Shabaab. A number of gun and grenade attacks on churches, nightclubs and buses in Northern Kenya have been blamed on Shabaab. In 2013, militants attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, killing 80 shoppers. Early this year, 150 people, mainly students, were killed at Garissa University, in the north of the country. Other attacks took place in the popular Lamu coastal area.  

Tourists staying away

A number of countries, including the U.S. and U.K., warned their citizens against traveling to parts of Kenya, including to the Indian Ocean coastline towns and cities that rely heavily on tourism. Though some parts of the country, including many of the safari destinations, were deemed safe, Kenya’s overall image was badly damaged by these ongoing attacks. 

However, it now seems that the security situation may be improving. Less than a year after the killings in Garissa, the U.K. and U.S. downgraded their warnings for large parts of the country, including parts of Mombasa. What changed?

Improving security and putting tourists at ease

Kenya has been telling the world that it is safer now than ever before. A major PR push is underway, with the East African country sending a large delegation to the World Travel Market earlier this month.

And the Pope is about to visit — though it remains up in the air whether his stay in Kenya will give people the impression that the security situation has improved.

Despite the fact that Al Shabaab militants are still active, many people do indeed believe that the security situation is better. Behind the scenes, Kenya has created an organization specifically tasked with informing tourists and travel industry professionals about the latest security situation.  

Specific information for the travel industry

The Safety and Communication Center, operated by the Kenyan Tourism Federation, is online 24 hours per day. The center says it works closely with Kenya’s security agencies to get the latest information, which it then relays to safari companies, hotels and anyone else who needs the latest news. The center is also the first point of contact if tourists need medical attention or even if they would like to know something as simple as the conditions of local roads or the likelihood of weather-related dangers.  

Tourism is important to Kenya’s economy. So it makes sense that authorities would take steps to protect visitors, and in doing so, also protect the country's image as a safe destination. The new resources make it possible for travel companies to offer a safer experience (and more peace of mind) to their guests.  

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