Obama’s visit might help revive Kenyan tourism

Nairobi – The three day visit by US President Barack Obama to Kenya this past week is a vote of confidence that is poised to hallmark a tourism boom in the east African country, where the industry has been negatively affected by terrorism attacks in recent months.

Kenya is known for its natural beauty and abundant wildlife and ranked among the top three tourist destinations in Africa after Morocco and South Africa.

Obama’s ‘homecoming’ coincided with the annual Great Wildebeest Migration season where millions of these animals cross Serengeti National Park in Tanzania searching for greener pastures in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

The annual migration is ranked by the Guinness Book of Records as one of the Eight Wonders of the World.

Tourism in Kenya is currently on tenterhooks due to terror attacks by Islamist extremist sect – Al Shabaab mostly in the coastal tourism city of Mombasa and surrounding areas, the capital Nairobi and north eastern area bordering Somalia, which has resulted in travel embargoes by many western countries including the United States.

The government in Nairobi has persistently assured the public and international visitors that Kenya is safe and remains a major tourist destination in Africa.

Media reports indicate that tourism prospects have shown signs of recovery with reported arrival of tourists in hotels across the country, according to government writer Purity Wangari.

There have been reports quoting high ranking officials of the Kenyan government to the effect that security has been enhanced. And the visit by the American President adds credence to this confidence.

The recent three-day visit by the US Secretary of State John Kerry was a major boost to Kenya’s image internationally, when he announced that his government would grant Kenya an initial Ksh13 billion to combat terrorism.

Newspapers in Kenya including The Daily Nation, have reported that preparations for the high tourist season have started as hoteliers urged Western countries to lift travel bans against Kenya.

Travel and tourism establishments expect the wildebeest migration season to boost tourism, which has also been hard hit by the Ebola scare and terrorism.

Reports indicate that hotels are now experiencing 45 to 70 percent occupancy with tour operators anticipating more visitors with the advent of high tourism activities.

In May 2014 President Kenyatta announced the introduction of a new tourism stimulus package as part of government efforts to resuscitate the travel and tourism sector in Kenya.

“The public sector will now hold conferences and meetings in private hotels throughout the country as and when need arises. Corporate and business entities will be allowed to pay vacation trip expenses for their staff on annual leave in Kenya and deduct such expenses from their taxes,” he said.

Visits by Kerry and former US President Bill Clinton do not only prove American commitment towards improving bilateral relations with Kenya but also a show of confidence in the country’s security situation.

US Senator Craig Tiezen and the Secretary General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dr Taleb Rifai also visited Kenya recently and have expressed confidence in the security situation in the country, urging countries that had issued travel advisories to review their stand.

“President Obama’s visit to Kenya shows there is a level of confidence in our security measures,” Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho says.

The Governor said he is optimistic that after Obama’s visit, tourism will get back on track.

The sector was affected by increased terror attacks in Kenya, with the coastal counties being the worst-hit.

Many hotels were forced to close and lay off staff, especially after travel advisories were issued against Kenya by the West, with the United States issuing terror alerts against Kenya last week. The United Kingdom lifted travel advisories last month.

“We, the governors of the six coastal counties, will continue engaging the US, UK and other Western countries to ensure the advisories are lifted,” Governor John was quoted as saying during the Eid celebrations on July 18, 2015 in Mombasa.

July 2015
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