UK exposes Kenya's soft underbelly by issuing fresh travel advisory, spelling doom for the hospitality industry

Fort Jesus in Mombasa
  • On Tuesday, the United Kingdom issued a fresh warning to its citizens against traveling to Kenya as they stood the risk of being kidnapped while in the country.
  • The UK’s 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. 
  • 184, 002 British tourists, equivalent of 9.09 percent of 2,025,206 arrivals, flew to Kenya last year.

Kenya’s tourism sector has been rocked by a new set of travel advisories and hospitality stakeholders in the country are now a worried lot not knowing how they will pull through just when the sector was starting to recover after years of slow growth.

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom issued a fresh warning to its citizens against traveling to Kenya as they stood the risk of being kidnapped while in the country.

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

“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 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.

The UK latest travel advisory comes in the wake of the kidnapping of two Cuban doctors in Mandera on April 12 by gunmen, believed to be linked to the Al Shabab militants, while they were on their way to work.

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

Hospitality stakeholders have however strongly condemned the blanket condemnation saying it would seriously affect the country’s economy and millions of livelihood. 

Kenya’s Tourism Federation chairman, Mohamed Hersi said the country was safe and the UK was not wise in warning its citizens to keep off.

 “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.” He told Business Daily, a local business publication.

“The blanket condemnation of Kenya as a destination is not very healthy (for the industry),”

UK’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Nic Hailey has however, tried to reassure Kenyans that his country hasn’t issued a new travel advisory for Kenya despite the existence of the travel advisory which was updated on Tuesday by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The UK’s 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 remains one of Kenya’s largest tourist market and the country was the fourth leading source of foreign tourists to Kenya in 2017 when earnings from the sector jumped 37 percent to Sh157 billion($1.57 billion) — which is the biggest increase in more than a decade.

184, 002 British tourists, equivalent of 9.09 percent of 2,025,206 arrivals, flew to Kenya last year.

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