Terrorism Taking Toll on Kenya's Tourist Industry

Stefan Lovgren in Nairobi
for National Geographic News
June 17, 2003

The devastating impact that terrorism has on tourism and the economies of developing countries became strikingly obvious to me during lunch recently at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya.

The landmark eatery, which borders a game park, serves every barbecued meat imaginable: wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, even giraffe and crocodile. Normally it's teeming with European and American tourists.

But Kenya's tourism business has fallen on hard times after several Western countries urged their citizens not to travel here because of the risk of terrorist attacks. British Airways has suspended flights to Kenya.

As I looked around the restaurant, there was no hiding the effect of the travel warnings. The place was dead. "Business is just terrible," Martin Dunford, chairman of the Tamarind Group, which owns the Carnivore, groaned as he walked around the empty tables.

Tourism is crucial to Kenya's economy, bringing in U.S. $500 million in annual revenue, according to the Kenya Tourism Federation. Kenyan tourism officials have estimated that Kenya is now losing at least $1 million every day because of the decline in tourism.

Hardest hit are small operators who are unable to sustain continued losses. Some experts warn the slump will turn business away from ecotourism, which has done well recently in Kenya, to mass-market operators. The smaller, eco-tourism operators tend to plow more of their profits back into Kenya's economy, and some eco-friendly game lodges in the Masai Mara reserve are run as cooperatives with the local Masai community.

Kenya is hardly the only tourist destination suffering from the fear of terrorism. Estimating the financial costs that terrorism has on global tourism is difficult, but it certainly runs into the billions of dollars.

But developing countries that rely heavily on tourism no doubt suffer more than industrialized countries, which have more diversified economies. Tourism makes up 12 percent of Kenya's gross national product.

"Britain and the United States have seen their tourism figures badly affected by the natural fears of a nervous traveling public," Kenya's foreign minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, wrote in a recent open letter to the British government. "Yet the pain for those economies is sustainable. For us, it is not."

Unfortunate Victim

I lived in Kenya for five years, before returning to the United States last year. Having spent many weekends in quaint game lodges surrounded by exotic wildlife or snorkeling at pristine coral reefs off the Indian Ocean beaches, I'm convinced Kenya must be one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Bordering shattered states like Somalia and Sudan, Kenya once had a reputation as a peaceful place. But time and again, that tranquility has been torn apart in recent years as Kenya became the unwitting target of terrorists.

Continued on Next Page >>


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