UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) endorses Kenya as safe tourism destination

Kenya’s tourism Thursday received a boost after a UN agency endorsed the country as a safe destination amid a sharp drop in arrivals.

The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) secretary-general Taleb Rifai, who arrived in Mombasa Thursday to attend the East African Tourism Development forum, expressed confidence in the sector’s growth.

The number of visitors to Kenya fell by 25 per cent in the first five months of 2015, reflecting how badly the industry has been damaged by a spate of militant attacks that have killed hundreds.

“I am confident of the Kenyan destination. I can even bring my family tomorrow,” he said. “Terrorism is not a Kenyan challenge, but a worldwide issue. It is not fair to say that terrorism is a Kenyan problem,” Mr Rifai said.

He said that terrorism is a global phenomenon, adding that France, the US, Bangkok and Thailand have suffered terror attacks too.

Al-Shabaab militants have hit a number of Kenyan targets in the past two years killing more than 400 people.

The attacks triggered travel warnings by Britain, the United States and Australia, among others.

Speaking to journalists shortly after arriving at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa, the UNWTO chief said he was attending the East Africa Tourism Development forum as a show of support for Kenya.

“I am impressed by the resilience of the Kenya Coast people. In less than six months tourism has started to pick up,” he said. Mr Rifai called on tourism stakeholders not to depend on European tourist source markets to revive the sector.

“I know the European market is important for your tourism sector, but don’t put your eggs in one basket,” he said.

“In times of trouble it is your neighbours who can cushion your industry against low numbers of European visitors,” he said.

Visitor numbers fell to 284,313 in five months to May compared to 381,278 in the same period last year, a 25.4 per cent drop. This followed a 4.3 per cent fall a year before. The number of visitors from Britain fell by 35 per cent to 36,022 in the period.

Tourist arrivals from the United States dropped 22 per cent to 30,083.

Tourism is a vital foreign exchange earner for Kenya, which boasts palm-fringed beaches and safari trails, but a two-year slump has forced hotels to close and cut jobs sending the shilling to new lows.

The UNWTO boss said that he was opposed to the all inclusive hotel concept since it denies locals tourism benefits. He said that there was need for all inclusive hotel owners to allow guests to go out for lunch or dinner or buy items from local traders.

“It is unfair for tourists to go to a destination only to benefit all inclusive hotels. Tourists should be allowed to buy food or drinks anywhere they want,” he said. Restricting visitors to such hotels, he said, makes them a target of attacks as locals feel deprived of tourism benefits.

Source: Business Daily