By Ogova Ondego
Kenya’s leading foreign income-earner, the US$900-million-per-year tourism sector, is on its knees following the unrest precipitated by the disputed Presidential poll results announced on December 30, 2007. As the situation goes from bad to worse, the world has watched as officers of a government whose legitimacy is in doubt blame the ‘western media’ and ‘diplomatic missions’ for scaring away visitors through alarmist media coverage and travel advisories, respectively. But the blame game, OGOVA ONDEGO writes, will not bring the scared tourists back to Kenya.
Dr Ong’ong’a Achieng, the managing director of the Kenya Tourist Board, says Kenya received not the expected 100000 tourists in January 2008 but only 8,000 tourists.
Jake Greeves-Cook of the Kenya Tourist Federation, says the government should embark on aggressive marketing and extensive public relations campaigns in key markets abroad if tourists are to come back.
So desperate is the situation that individual hotels and travel agencies are appealing to local people within Kenya to come out and keep them in business.
Let’s Go Travel agency, for instance, has sent out the following appeal: “Whilst we can be dismal about the current state of affairs and atrocities in the country please remember there are many places out there which are largely unaffected and desperate for some business to enable them to keep their operations going. They have on going costs, staff to look after, conservancies to continue conserving, which require regular scouting and preservation of wildlife and fauna – all of which continues to cost money!
So why not still take that break for a night or two, or even more, and help some of these different places to keep on operating.”
Writing to ‘friends and partners’ of Gamewatchers Safaris and Porini Safari Camps, managing director Greeves-Cook says, “For the last four weeks we have watched with dismay as Kenya has featured on all the international TV networks with frightening scenes of violence giving the impression that the whole country is afflicted by anarchy and chaos. However here on the ground in Nairobi, on safari and at the coastal beach resorts, the situation is very different from what is being shown on TV and all of us at Gamewatchers Safaris and in our four Porini Camps have been able to carry on with our lives as normal, welcoming our clients on safari as usual and receiving positive comments from all our guests who have been here in the last few weeks.”
As if looking for a second opinion, many apprehensive and apparently disbelieving westerners who visit Kenya and are on the Porini mailing list have forwarded their mail to ArtMatters.Info to inquire if what Greeves-Cook says is true.
“What has not been properly explained by the international media is that the sporadic violence that started after the disputed election has been very largely confined to the western corner of Kenya in the areas around Kisumu, Kericho and Eldoret and in the slums and high density housing estates outside Nairobi which are places where tourists do not normally go.
The scenes which have been shown on TV (and some of the same scenes from four weeks ago have been shown over again as if they are still happening) were filmed by international TV crews in western Kenya or in the slums but the impression is given that this is the scene throughout the country, which is just not true. What has been happening in the areas around Kisumu, Kericho and Eldoret is absolutely tragic for this country and Kenyans from all levels of society have been calling for peace and an end to violence in the affected areas. Talks have now started between the political leadership of both sides with Kofi Annan mediating. Both sides have called on their supporters to shun violence and to restore peace so we hope that soon we will start seeing an end to the violence.
Although we are all very sad about what has happened in the western part of Kenya we must stress that Nairobi hotels, the wildlife parks and reserves and the beach resorts at the coast have not experienced any problems at all throughout the whole period of this post-election crisis.”
In this article, ArtMatters.Info (a Kenyan organisation that is convinced that her destiny is linked with the well-being of Kenya) reproduces Greeves-Cook’s comments because we share them.
Greeves-Cook continues: “All the international airports in Nairobi and Mombasa have been open and functioning as normal throughout the last four weeks with daily international flights operating. The highways between the airports and the international hotels have all been open as usual and literally thousands of tourists in hundreds of vehicles have been driven along these routes daily without any problem.”
Saying “Tourism is very important to the livelihoods of millions” in Kenya, Greeves-Cook adds, “we need our tourism industry to keep operating in order that Kenyans do not suffer more by losing their livelihoods so we hope that visitors will keep coming.”
But Greeves-Cook’s appeal appears not to break much ice as Kenya’s national parks (where a lion brings US$7000 and a herd of elephants US$610,00 to Kenya annually) are reporting a 90% drop in visitors as hotels close and thousands of jobs vanish into oblivion. Even the 1500-square kilometre world famous Maasai Mara, that was in 2006 named ‘One of the Seven Wonders of the World’ by ABC News in 2006, has not been spared.
Lake Nakuru National Park, another leading tourist attraction in the Rift Valley, is reporting losing more than US$28600 per day since violence rocked Kenya after Mwai Kibaki had been hurriedly and controversially sworn in as President in December 2007.
At the equally world-famous 480-kilometre long Kenyan coast that accounts for 65% tourism revenue, things could not be said to be bleaker as the 43 charter flights that flew in with 7500 tourists each week from the UK, the US and Germany by the end of 2007 no longer show up. By the end of the first quarter of 2008 an estimated 150,000 jobs and an estimated US$833 million expected revenue will have been lost as Kenya-bound tourists go to Tanzania and South Africa.
Though travel and tourism contribute significantly to the growth of economies, investment and job creation, this is a sector that is very sensitive to any slight threat to safety and security of visitors. But as farmers and suppliers of fresh produce and other services and goods to the tourism sector suffer, the government appears not to be doing much to restore confidence in the tourism sector in order to seduce the tourists back to this land of pleasure and recreation. In fact, the whole coast has been on the world map since 110 AD when a Greek explorer, Diogenes, wrote about it and Ptolemy, another of his compatriot, included it in his “Map of the World” forty years later. An estimated one million tourists visit Kenya each year.
The Kenyan coast, extending from Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south, is renowned for its fine beaches, resorts and even-tempered weather that gives it the aura of a paradise on earth.
Kenyan beaches, lapped by 27-35-degree centigrade warm water, are protected by 240-kilometre coral reef. Visitors may walk at low tide on this coral reef or sail in glass-bottomed boats as they feast their eyes on colourful star fish, sea urchins, and other under-water worlds. National marine parks to protect marine treasures are found off Shimoni, Mombasa, Watamu, Malindi, and Lamu.
Indeed, so beautiful is Kenya that Roger Whittaker’s music album,Â Roger Whittaker in Kenya: A Musical Safari, is still as fresh as it was when it was released on January 1, 1984. It is worth listening to at this time as Kenya goes through lean times. The songs most likely to appeal to the listener are the catchy ‘My Land is Kenya’ an ‘Shimoni’.