Kenya’s coastal resorts see signs of tourism picking up

Kenya’s coastal resorts have seen a rise in bookings by western visitors, suggesting a tourist industry devastated by terror attacks may be starting to recover, tourism executives have said.
Holidaymakers shunned Kenya’s beaches and wildlife safaris after attacks blamed on al Shabaab militants from neighbouring Somalia triggered warnings against non-essential travel to the coast by Western governments.

Britain, the source of more than half the country’s tourists, lifted a travel advisory covering most of the coast in June, setting the stage for recovery. Visitor arrivals to Kenya fell by a quarter in the first five months of this year, to 284,313 from 381,278 in the same period last year.

The country received 1.168 million visitors in its fiscal year ended June 2013. It aims to attract 3 million tourists a year by 2017. The slump in tourism, Kenya’s main source of hard currency, has contributed to an 11.5 per cent fall in the shilling against the dollar this year.

Finance Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said last month that the bookings outlook for the tourism sector was improving. July’s visit by President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, may also help raise the country’s profile as a travel destination, especially among Americans. “It is looking better,” said Mohammed Hersi, chairman of the Kenya Coast Tourism Association and a veteran hotelier. “The Kenyan coast is back.”

Hersi, also the chief executive of Heritage Hotels, said the chain’s flagship Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa, was 65 per cent full last month, double the rate of a year ago.

Forward bookings were even better, with this month’s occupancy rate at 70 percent, mainly due to domestic tourists. Bookings from foreigners are already coming in for October and November, Hersi said, adding some resorts that had shut down were reopening and some air charter operators from Italy were flying in visitors.

International tour operators were offering holidays on the Kenyan coast after the lifting of the British travel advisory, which meant holidaymakers could buy travel insurance. “When the British government advises against non-essential travel, we get cancellations from as far away as Denmark, yet their own country has not told them Mombasa is not safe,” Hersi said.

Western countries warned against travel to Kenya following the September 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in which at least 67 people were killed by al Shabaab gunmen, with some warnings tightened last year after attacks on the coast.

Mahmud Janmohamed, chief executive of TPS Eastern Africa , which operates a chain of luxury hotels, lodges and tented camps across the region, also said interest was picking up but that a turnaround in the sector was still some way off. “There are obviously more inquiries. A number of operators are now beginning to sell Kenya, but to expect a recovery before the middle of next year is not being realistic,” he told Reuters.