Branson blames travel advisories for Kenya’s tourism downturn and Virgin’s departure


In a hard hitting commentary has Sir Richard Branson heaped blame on the US State Department and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for branding Kenya as a dangerous destination and using language in their anti travel advisories which immediately invalidated any travel insurance, tourists planning to visit Kenya would purchase. ‘Sir Richard was entirely right’ said a regular commenter from Nairobi before continuing ‘If our visitors cannot count on their travel insurance to cover them when coming to Kenya and by chance encountering a problem, that will surely keep them away. We in Kenya have always demanded that those writing the advisories temper their language and put things in context. Has Kenya issued any such advisories following the sad events in Boston? These travel advisories are the ultimate insults handed to us by countries we have long considered friendly but who, when push comes to shove, treat us like a child who needs a stick. There have been significant shifts in Kenya’s foreign alignment over the past years, and the same happens all over Africa. I am not saying that the way we now do business with China is a bed of roses, to the contrary in fact considering the poaching tsunami they brought to us, but politically it is payback to the West. Those are always just wanting and taking and when they give they put a thousand conditions to it. Look how they treated our president in the run up to the elections and how they meddled in our affairs, threatening us with all sorts of things if we elect Uhuru Kenyatta. At times I feel that such travel advisories are written out of spite, and with contempt for us who for long were in a weaker position. Yes, we need their tourist visitors and thankfully many of them ignore their government warnings because they have realized how biased that all is, and how one sided’.

Sir Richard in his commentary, at least in part, blamed the warnings on Virgin’s decision to halt flights between London and Nairobi, which added at the time to the exodus of other airlines from Kenya, negatively affecting the country’s tourism performance in 2012. Diplomatic sources in Kenya have promptly denied any hidden agenda and pointed to their legal duty to inform their citizens of risks when coming to Kenya, but as is often the case, these explanations sound hollow and more of an afterthought trying to repair the damage the advisories have done in the first place. ‘Pulling their staff from Mombasa last year, or stopping them from their planned Easter holidays in Kenya going to beach resorts and safari lodges was an act of ill will. It was a hysteric overreaction. It created panic instead of calming the situation and it did a lot of financial damage because most of them cancelled and refused to pay cancellation or no show fees, citing their embassy warnings not to travel. I think the American government had another agenda altogether here. Remember when they stopped Delta from flying here at the very last moment when passengers were already going to the airport? Not one international airline stopped flying into Nairobi over the reasons the Americans gave back then. It was so obvious that they had different things in mind and it was not the issue of aviation security in Nairobi’ added another regular contributor on condition of anonymity for fear of being blacklisted for being outspoken.

Sir Richard hit the bull’s eye and spoke on behalf of many Kenyans when he blamed his own and the American government for being fork tongued when it came to such advisories, pointing to their own reaction over incidents in their own back yard. There, he contended in the Independent incidents like the recent Boston bombings, were glossed over and potential tourists told to come nevertheless while in less dramatic circumstances slapping Kenya with well near prohibition orders for their own citizens.

Blaming Virgin’s departure entirely on such issues of course is more than a little farfetched as other reasons came into play at the time, including and foremost poor connectivity from and to Virgin departures for Nairobi, but that notwithstanding, anti travel advisories proved to be particularly unhelpful for keeping Virgin on the route to Kenya.

It was also noted by other tourism stakeholders, that following the peaceful elections in Kenya, which passed without the projected violence as peddled by certain overseas media houses, lifting the anti travel advisories was slow in coming and yet they had been slapped down hard and fast to start with.

Kenya is expected to make up for the losses incurred by the tourism industry in the first months of 2013 and the Kenya Tourism Board has asked the government for 500 million Kenya Shillings to run a ‘recovery marketing campaign’ similar to what was done in 2008 and 2009. Industry sources nevertheless expressed their doubts that the country could match the 2012 results, which were down from the record performance in 2011 but were also confident that latest in 2014 the upward trend would be restored in full. Time will tell, so for now it is wait and see and hoping that the anti travel advisories still in place will soon be lifted completely.