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Travel, Tourism and Terrorism

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Al Shabaab I, by WhyteKnyteThe UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just issued a travel alert for Nairobi, advising Brits to beware of the increased risks of terror attacks in the city. When I heard, my thoughts immediately jumped to how this might affect Kenya’s tourism industry, dependent as it is on foreign travellers and their hard currency.

It already didn’t look as though 2012 would be a banner year for the tourism sector: the global economy continues to limp along, with more travellers choosing short-haul destinations as they tighten their household spending. And though the election may not take place until the end of the year, jitters about a fresh round of post-poll violence are already in the air, potentially putting off tourists.

This isn’t to say Kenya is now off limits, or will suffer disproportionately. But the drip-drip of bad news does have a cumulative effect. Instead of answering questions about “Oh hey, game parks!” when people learn I’m Kenyan, they now want to know if my family are safe (they are).

With inflation in the local economy hovering above 15% it is impossible to expect domestic tourism to pick up the slack, no matter how good growth is this year. We need those tourists, and the Kenyan Tourism Board need to be pulling out their A-game presentation packages to encourage them to return.

In a bitter irony, the terrorists al-Shabaab may have caused more damage than they could ever hope to achieve with bombs alone. By issuing public threats and scaring away tourists, they are already having a detrimental effect on one of the most important sectors of the economy.

2012. The year of the financial terrorist?

[Image by WhyteKnyte]

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