EU holds back on anti travel advisories against Kenya


(Posted 26th September 2013)

The European Union has, for now at least, bowed to pressure not to issue some more of their infamous anti travel advisories following the Westgate Mall attack by a group of terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy did Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ask foreign countries to refrain from issuing anti travel advisories to avoid further damage to the vital tourism industry, on which tens of thousands of jobs hinge and to which the bulk of Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings is tied.

The US and UK, but also the EU have in the past issued often crippling anti travel advisories, in the process locking horns with the Kenya government and the country’s private sector but in few cases were they moved to tone down leave along refrain from issuing them. A senior EU official has confirmed that the Europeans will provide additional intelligence information to Kenya with immediate effect, reportedly highly confidential data files allowing Kenyan immigration to identify immediately any flagged names and passports of suspects already wanted or under close watch by EU security agencies. This it is understood is over and above the regular Interpol updates which the Kenyans have linked to their immigration data base.

At the same time did the official confirm that no additional advisories would be issued for now, although he appealed to visitors to be vigilant at all times. This comes amid speculation – the Kenyan government has still to provide updated casualty figures and nationalities of the terrorists besides explaining some glaring gaps between the information given so far and narratives from escapees and survivors widely circulated through the global media – that at least some of the terrorists may hold nationalities of EU member countries.

Tourism stakeholders were swift to applaud this development but also appealed to the US and UK to follow suit, as in particular the UK was almost instant to prohibit travel to a zone along the Somali border extending once again almost to Lamu and elsewhere some 60 kilometres inside Kenya.

Information obtained from hotels, resorts and safari operators presently shows a mixed picture, with some information speaking of cancellations while others in rather vague replies preferred to use the more neutral, but also nondescript ‘we are still somehow ok’. The Kenya coast has already been taking a hit from reduced arrival numbers, largely attributed to the lack of seats to the coast with several charter operations significantly reduced compared to a year or two years ago. ‘When I hear such stupid utterances like made in Nairobi at a hotel conference the other day, that we at the coast have an overcapacity of rooms I can only shake my head. Two years ago we did not have enough rooms to meet the demand, so what has changed since then? What has changed is that airlines halted plans to fly to Mombasa like Qatar and Brussels Airlines. What has changed is that other airlines reduced their flights or combined them with Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar, reducing the seats available to the Mombasa market. What has happened is that some airlines have left the Mombasa route completely and others have given notice that they will do so soon. That is our main challenge, besides the need to improve our product and bring it in line with other top beach destinations. The issue is not what has been alleged that an all inclusive resort product has wrecked the market. In the Caribbean there are plenty of all inclusive resorts and it works there because their fundamentals are different. Their tourist boards get enough money, they have national strategies in place, they work hand in hand with each other through the Caribbean Tourism Organization while we have yet to conclude joint promotions with our neighbours. We lack the regional tourist Visa, we must stop to charge expatriates from our neighbours who want to come to our beach resorts Visa fees as long as they have work or residence permits. There is a whole lot of things we can do immediately to make travel to Kenya easier. But we also need to make it more attractive, which means our resorts must upgrade and modernize. Yet, the successor of KTDC [Kenya
Tourist Development Corporation] is not functional because they have no board and therefore cannot lend to Kenyan businesses at affordable interest rates. If resorts are to take out commercial loans, considering how they struggle to stay afloat and open right now, they would commit financial suicide. You can see, there are many issues which need sorting out and I hope this incident in Nairobi will fast track a candid dialogue between public and private sector of what we think has to be done to reverse the trend and fill our beds’ said a regular source from Mombasa in his response.

Leading tourism stakeholders and their associations will no doubt keep a close watch on the websites of foreign ministries, if any of them is breaking ranks with the EU and goes ahead with new more negative advisories. Watch this space for updates as and when more news become available.

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