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TPS Says Kenya 'Must Be Joking' About Tourism Figures

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Kenyan hotel chain TPS has disputed official figures for tourist arrivals, saying violent attacks by militant Islamists have scared away far more tourists than the authorities admit.

The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) said on Friday that arrivals in the first four months of the year were down 4 percent from a year earlier to 381,000.

TPS Eastern Africa, which operates the Serena chain of hotels, luxury lodges and tented camps, said in a weekend statement: "We must be joking!"

It said its own survey for the first half of the year showed business on the important coastal tourism circuit fell by 30-50 percent on last year while inland trips to destinations such as the Maasai Mara game reserve and Mount Kenya had fallen by 20 percent.

Tourism is a leading source of foreign currency for east Africa's biggest economy and the government has been trying to encourage the sector to grow and create jobs.

But last year's attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, followed by gun and grenade attacks at beach resorts, have prompted some western nations to warn their citizens against travel to parts of Kenya, leading to even fewer tourists at resorts along the Indian Ocean coast in recent weeks.

Arrivals in the same period a year ago were depressed by a presidential election in March, which passed off peacefully despite fears of a repeat of the violence of the previous election in 2007.

Mureithi Ndegwa, the tourist board's chief executive, said its numbers are for the period preceding a wave of deadly attacks on the coastal county of Lamu since mid-June in which more than 100 people have been killed.

TPS said the board's statement was "not in touch with the reality on the ground," adding: "We wonder if KTB and the Kenya tourism industry live in the same Kenya."

Tourist arrival figures for the first half of the year will be released in the next three weeks.

Some 900 tourists cut short their holidays after the UK issued a warning about Mombasa on May 14.

Tourist numbers slid last year to 1.5 million after an all-time peak of 1.8 million in 2011.

TPS said the drop in visitors was causing job lay-offs and hurting suppliers in sectors such as farming and manufacturing that provide supplies and services to hotels.

"It is not business as usual - let us not kid ourselves," the TPS group said.

(Reuters)