21 May 2019

Kenya: UK Slaps Kenya With New Travel Alert, Citing Kidnap Risk

Photo: Nation Media Group
Tourists in Mombasa (file photo).

The UK Tuesday rocked Kenya's tourism with a warning to its citizens against the risk of kidnapping in the country following an updated travel advisory that could hit recent gains in the travel sector after years of recovery.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in a fresh travel guidance issued on Tuesday expanded the areas where her citizens should be vigilant for kidnappings to include Kenya's top conferencing, safari and beach tourism destinations.

The UK foreign office advisory comes less than two months after the United States listed Kenya among the global kidnapping hotspots in a new risk indicator that Washington introduced for travel advisories.

"There's a heightened threat of terrorism, including terrorist kidnappings, across Kenya, including to people travelling in or through Nairobi, the coast and resort areas around Mombasa and Malindi, the towns of Narok, Naivasha, Nanyuki and Meru and their surrounding areas, and the northern border counties," the FCO statement read.

"Attacks, including terrorist kidnappings, could target Westerners, including British nationals."

The advisory lists places frequented by foreigners such as hotels, bars, restaurants, sports bars and nightclubs, sporting events, supermarkets, shopping centres, coastal areas including beaches, airports, buses, trains and other transport hubs as possible areas which could be targeted. UK was the fourth leading source of foreign tourists to Kenya last year when earnings from the sector jumped 37 percent to Sh157 billion -- which is the biggest increase in more than a decade.

It brought in 184, 002 tourists, equivalent of 9.09 percent of 2,025,206 arrivals, behind US, Tanzania and Uganda.

But the UK tourists spend more per head compared to travellers from Tanzania and Uganda. The UK foreign office advisory has invited protests from local tourism players.

"The blanket condemnation of Kenya as a destination is not very healthy (for the industry)," Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi told the Business Daily after the UK reviewed risk indicators to include kidnappings.

"Kenya is not a country where you ran a risk of getting kidnapped. We host the UN offices in Nairobi and another 150 diplomats. It (kidnapping) happens sometimes, but only along the border which is a no-go zone for many of the tourists and business visitors."

Two Cuban doctors in Mandera were ambushed in April 12 by gunmen, believed to be linked to the Al Shabab militants, on their way to work two days after the US issued the alert.

Kenya is yet to find an Italian charity worker, Ms Silvia Constanca Romano, who was abducted in Kilifi County on November 20, 2018.

The 2013 travel alerts reduced the flow of tourist dollars, a valuable source of foreign exchange, put pressure on the shilling and forced some hotels out of business.

The industry has since recovered following improved security and aggressive marketing in foreign capitals.

Earnings dropped from Sh94 billion in 2013 to Sh84.6 billion a year later, following the Westgate attack. It then rose to Sh157 billion last year from Sh120 billion in 2017.


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