How the recent terrorist attack in a Nairobi mall that left at least 66 dead will impact tourism is a major concern in Kenya where tourism accounts for one in 10 jobs, 20% of exports and 12.5% of GDP.
Speaking today at the Africa Hotel Investment Forum in Nairobi, David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, cited tourism in Kenya, which received 1.8 million visitors in 2012, as “a cornerstone of the economy.” He called travel and tourism “a weapon in the war against terror” which can rebuild confidence “that a country is not only safe to visit but is a place to do business.”
Business for Micato Safaris, a luxury tour operator to Africa with offices in New York, has not been affected, says Dennis Pinto, managing director. “We have had no cancellations. On Monday we got the same number of online requests for brochures that we usually get. It will take a week or two before we know the impact, if any.”
Pinto notes that this fall Micato has been busy with corporate groups. Typically, international flights arrive in Nairobi in the evening and clients spend the next day touring the city.
“We use the Norfolk Hotel in downtown Nairobi, about 45 minutes from the mall, ” says Pinto. “We moved clients to Hemingways, a hotel in Karen, a suburb, not because of a concern about terrorism but because the Norfolk became very busy with journalists. We moved people to a quieter place for their comfort level not because of security. We also lined up charter flights and flew people into the bush a day earlier. “
Pinto notes that the average traveler to Kenya does not go to the Westgate Mall as it has international chain stores. “The terrorists did not target tourists, but wealthy Kenyans and expats. Those are the people that use that mall,” says Pinto.
Travel agent Daniel Saperstein, co-owner of Hippo Creek Safaris in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., reports inquiries and expressions of concern by people traveling in the next week or so, but no cancellations.
“We always stress that clients should get trip cancellation insurance,” says Saperstein. “Each policy is unique. Some cover terrorism, but not political unrest. With safaris, you do not get your money back if you cancel 30-60 days before departure.”
Saperstein says that the hotels in Nairobi are security conscious. “Kenya is a very safe place to visit,” says Saperstein. ” Security has always been tight in Kenya and more so now. Every park and reserve is secured both for the protection of tourists but also for the prevention of poaching elephant and rhino.”
Linda Friedman, CEO of Custom Safaris in Bethesda, Md., an upscale safari operator, says “It’s too soon to tell. It’s only been four days. The Kenya business may fall off, but then the Tanzania business may increase.”
Friedman does not have clients on the ground in Kenya now. “My high season is July and August in Kenya. Most of my clients have nine months to think about this. They will hang on to their bookings and wait.”
Scowsill urged conference attendees to use social media “…to support Kenyans by telling the world that they are here and that they are having a good and safe time.”