Kenya Sees 2012 Tourism Income Down

March 15, 2012

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Kenya expects tourism revenues to fall this year as the euro zone crisis hits confidence in key markets and foreign governments issue travel alerts over the threat from Somalian militants, its tourism minister said on Thursday.

One of Kenya's major foreign earners alongside tea and horticulture, tourism took a record KES98 billion shillings in 2011, but that looks set to fall back this year to around the KES74 billion shillings of 2010.

"The projection for 2012 does not look good. We will retain revenues of 2010 but passenger numbers will decline by 15 percent," Najib Balala said.

"I'm cautious of 2012. I'm worried, not only cautious. If we are lucky, we will only reach the 2010 figures not even 2011."

Visitors from China and other growing markets drove a surge in Kenya's tourism revenues last year, but the euro zone crisis and fears of a repeat of 2007's election violence are likely to hurt arrivals in 2012, tourism officials have warned.

Britain, the United States and Australia have issued travel advisories to citizens intending to visit Kenya following the killing of tourists in the coastal resort of Lamu.

Kenya sent troops across the border last year to root out the Somali al Qaeda-linked militant group, al Shabaab, blamed for the attacks, an escalation that has raised concerns about tourist safety.

Worries about a resurgence of the violence that erupted following a disputed presidential election in 2007 also threaten to hit tourist numbers, tour operators have said.

Within the next 12 months, Kenya is set to hold its first national elections since the fighting, which disrupted business and travel in east Africa's biggest economy and killed more than 1,200 people.

"There is the economic crisis in Europe, we have our own image crisis because of the al Shabaab, and we have not been funded enough to clean our image. Travel advisories have been the key damage for us by the Western embassies," Balala said.

"There have been no cancellations, but slow booking, and they are not encouraging, especially for summer. The figures we have are not the same as 2011."

Balala said the government had increased security measures in tourist areas such as Lamu, but security scares in border areas and, more recently, in the capital had raised concerns of further attacks.

An explosion hit a bus station in Nairobi on Saturday evening, an attack the government blamed on al Shabaab. Police said grenades were thrown and nine people had been killed.

(Reuters)