15 July 2014

Kenya: Why Travel Advisories Hurt Countries, Help Terrorists

Photo: Mombasa County Govt
Terror attacks (file photo): Kenya has said travel advisory to UK not retaliatory.


No country should ever post travel advisories warnings citizens not to visit another country. We should all be taking steps to make fewer boundaries between people and nations - not creating deeper divisions.

The latest example of this is in Kenya, which has been suffering from travel advisories for years. Now, the UK Foreign Office has advised "against all but essential travel" to many areas of Kenya, warning there is a "a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping" and even a "threat of piracy". They are giving the false impression that Kenya is too dangerous to visit.

While the government has a responsibility to highlight facts, advising against all non-essential travel could destroy Kenya's economy, which depends hugely on tourism.

This is effectively a ban on travel, rather than leaving people to make up their own minds, having been given all of the information. All British tour companies that are members of ABTA or members of the Federation of Tour Operators are prohibited from operating to areas subject to a "non-essential travel" warning.

Many tours have already been cancelled, while travel insurance will be negated. All tourism to the coast in the environs of Mombasa has effectively ended, causing thousands of people to lose their jobs, hotels to be closed and huge disruption intensified. More than 5,000 hotel workers have lost their jobs and 25 hotels have closed in Mombasa alone. In our case, Virgin Atlantic had to stop flying to Kenya as the dwindling tourism industry made the route highly uneconomical. The conservation of wildlife will suffer too, as this depends upon a flourishing tourism industry.

The Foreign Office warns about the extremist group Al Shabaab. Travel advisories urging people not to visit countries are exactly what terrorists want.

They destroy economies, creating the dire circumstances and resentment where extremism is more likely to thrive. No country should put out advisories against countries that suffer terrorist attacks. We've had our 'fair' share in the UK and are not treated in this shabby way by other countries.

Instead, they should continue to support them through tourism and trade. As Kwale County minister of tourism Adam Sheikh said: "Now terrorists are fighting back, we need our friends to stand by us. Not to leave us and make the situation worse than it already is."

In the same travel advisory, the Foreign Office stated: "185,967 British nationals visited Kenya in 2012. Most visits are trouble-free."

Kenya is an incredible country full of wonderful people that it has been a pleasure to spend time in on many occasions - I look forward to my next visit.

The author is the founder of the Virgin business empire.

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