Terror attacks fear sees Kenya tourist arrivals fall in first quarter

Tourist arrivals in Kenya have declined sharply in the first three months of the year amid increased attacks from the Al-Qaida affiliated terror group, the ‘al-Shabaab’.

The country received 177,085 tourists through its two main airports in Nairobi and Mombasa namely Jomo Kenyatta and Moi, which is a 31 per cent decline compared to a similar period last year, latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

The data released Friday gives a glimpse into how low fortunes in the sector have dwindled following persistent attacks from the ‘al-Shabaab’.

The Somali-based terror group has carried numerous attacks in Kenya, particularly in the northern part of the country, with the latest involving the massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College, including 142 students. In January, according to KNBS in the monthly Leading Economic Indicators report for March, a paltry 50,953 tourists came into Kenya, down from 95,759 in 2014 and 111,984 in 2013.

Of the tourists, the bulk 40,846 came through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) while the rest, 10,107, through Moi International Airport.

The number increased marginally to 53,053 in February, with JKIA recording 45,171 arrivals.

Things warmed up for the industry in March, where a significant rise in tourist numbers was recorded. Some 73,079 tourists visited Kenya but this was a drop from 91,602 that came into the country in 2014.

The downturn into the industry has hit the sector greatly, with Kenya experiencing the worst in many years as earnings drop and thousands lose jobs. Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) in a recent interview estimated that at least 28,000 of its members have lost their jobs.

However, Kudheiha put the total job losses in the hotel and hospitality industry at over 40,000 workers, with about 50 hotels particularly at the Coast having been closed.

The World Travel and Tourism Council notes that the travel and tourism directly and indirectly employs at least 225,000 people in Kenya.

However, terrorism is not the only enemy of the East African nation’s tourism sector, the Economic Survey 2015 released last week pointed out.

“In 2014, the tourism sector experienced decreased performance owing to a number of factors that included insecurity mainly associated with terror attacks, adverse travel advisories and continued spread of Ebola in West African countries,” said the survey released by the devolution and planning ministry.

Consequently, Kenya’s tourism earnings decreased by 7.3 per cent from 1 billion U.S. dollars in 2013 to 927 million dollars in 2014.

According to the survey, the fall in earnings was due to a decrease of 11.1 per cent in the number of international visitor arrivals because of adverse negative travel advisories by key source markets that include Australia, France, Britain and the U.S.

The low tourist arrivals saw only 2.2 million tourists visit the country’s national parks and game reserves, the main attractions, down from 2.4 million the previous year.

“The tourism sector will only take off if we counter the bad publicity that has led to negative perception about Kenya due to terror attacks.

“Tourism thrives mainly on good publicity and that is where Kenya needs to invest most as it fixes its security to stop the ‘al-Shabaab’,” noted tourism analyst Sandra Rwese in a recent interview.