Kenya furious after British tourist evacuation over safety fears
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 16 May 2014
Kenyan officials reacted furiously to the decision by Britain’s biggest tour operator to evacuate holidaymakers from the coast south of Mombasa – and to cancel all holidays there until November at the earliest.
TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice, said the move was “a result of the change in FCO advice”. Yet the amendment to the Government's warning specified that the airport and the main resort of Diani - where Thomson and First Choice customers were staying - were unaffected. The FCO change focused on Mombasa Island and the coast in the immediate vicinity.
A spokeswoman for TUI said: “Our decisions are made purely on the safety and security of the customers.”
The Kenya programme was terminated because the standard route between the airport and resort passed through the affected area, and that an alternative route was not considered suitable by local staff. The restriction would also rule out safari excursions, which are taken by nine out of 10 TUI customers.
The final evacuation flight from Kenya is due to arrive this morning. Some customers with Kuoni are also returning early.
Muriithi Ndegwa, managing director of the Kenya Tourism Board, said he was “disappointed by the FCO’s decision to enforce this advice”. His view was echoed by Nigel Vere Nicholl, chief executive of the African Travel and Tourism Association: “The majority of the Kenya coast, as well as all international airports and safari circuits, continue to operate as normal.”
Other tour operators insist that the Foreign Office advice will have little impact. Ash Sofat, chief executive of Somak, said his staff had contacted customers to let them know of the change: “All have chosen to continue their holidays as planned.”
For some years, the FCO has warned of a high risk of terrorism in Kenya, with a number of areas – including the northern coast and the border area with Somalia - placed off limits. The main threat is Al Shabaab, a terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda. It has perpetrated a number of atrocities, such as last September’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in which 67 people died.
At least 5,000 Thomson and First Choice customers are now thought to be seeking replacement holidays.
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