Kenya's tourist industry counts the cost of unrest

The sun-loungers by the swimming pool at Nairobi's luxury Serena hotel are empty. The wildlife wardens at the gates of Nairobi National Park have not seen a 4x4 in hours. In Mombasa the beach boys sit together in the shade, searching in vain for a tourist to pester with cheap trinkets and bracelets.

This should be Kenya's peak tourist season. A time of year when hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers flee the cold European and American winter for a dose of east African summer sun. But following two weeks of unprecedented violence and political unrest, and with no end to the instability in sight, few tourists are coming to Kenya. The planes are arriving empty and leaving full, taking the last of those who remained when the fighting began at the end of December.

The consequences are potentially devastating. One million tourists come to Kenya every year, making the industry Kenya's largest foreign exchange earner. It brings in between £500m and £750m a year – more than the next two largest, horticulture and tea export, put together.

More crucially, the tourist industry directly employs 500,000 people and another 500,000 indirectly, according to the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (Kato). Fish farmers in Kisumu and pork farmers in Eldoret, towns with no real tourist industry, sell their wares to Nairobi hotels. "The chain reaction is massive," said Duncan Muriuki, chairman of Kato.

Those Nairobi hotels are now operating at less than 10 per cent occupancy – at a time of year when they should be more than 90 per cent full. Safari lodges in the Masai Mara and Samburu have similarly low numbers.

At the Indian Ocean coast, tour operators have been forced to cancel thousands of holidays in Mombasa, Watamu and Malindi – there are currently 85 per cent fewer tourists at the coast than normal.

Travel advisories from the British Foreign Office and some of its European counterparts have warned against all but essential travel to Kenya. Insurance companies are refusing to offer protection for tourists willing to defy the advice. The tourism industry will have no respite next week. The opposition Orange Democratic Movement party yesterday announced the resumption of public protests. Rallies have been planned in 28 towns and cities across Kenya next week. The opposition also called on European countries and the United States to impose sanctions.

Attempts to hold a rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park last week failed, but the city was brought to a halt. City centre businesses have already decided to close next week, fearing the demonstrations could bring violence.

Kenya's economy has already taken a serious short-term blow. A combination of Christmas, the election and post-election violence meant the country was in effect closed down for two weeks, costing £15m a day. The Finance minister, Amos Kimunya, estimated the overall cost at £500m.

Long-term, economic analysts fear a recession may be imminent. Kenya's economic growth had been one of President Mwai Kibaki's few success stories. The economy grew from 0.5 per cent in 2002 to almost 7 per cent in 2007. Professor Terry Ryan, a local analyst, said economic growth could slip as low as 2 per cent.

Whether the economy can bounce back relies heavily on tourism. Robert Shaw, a commentator and economic analyst, said it was unlikely to happen unless the political situation was resolved. That currently looks unlikely.

Kenya's tourism industry has suffered in the past and has always bounced back. Visitor numbers dipped following an al-Qa'ida attack on the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998. But this, tour operators say, is different.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions