Kenya's 2012 tourism earnings to dip on euro crisis, attacks

Fri May 18, 2012 10:10am EDT
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By Beatrice Gachenge

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's white sandy beaches look set to have fewer visitor footprints meandering over them this year.

While this may be good news for Europeans seeking escape from economic storms at home, it is bad news for Suresh Sofat's tour firm and other Kenyans hoping to cash in on hard currency earnings - especially after 2011 was year of plenty for them.

Sofat, 73, who runs Somak Travel, a 44-year old family business, now sees a difficult time ahead after the euro crisis and deadly attacks blamed on al Qaeda-linked militia have seen travel bookings fall sharply.

Tour operators also fear the upcoming elections in east Africa's biggest economy may cloud the outlook even further.

One of Kenya's major foreign earners alongside tea and horticulture, tourism took a record 98 billion shillings ($1.19 billion) in 2011 driven by visitors from Britain and the United States - the main source market for Kenya.

A dip in the industry's fortunes could soon blight the lives of ordinary Kenyans who rely on the sector for earnings, especially at a time of stagnation in other sectors such as property construction.

Britain, the United States and Australia have warned off their citizens following the killing of tourists in the coastal resort of Lamu. Travel bookings from the UK plunged 61 percent in the first quarter of this year alone.

"Summer bookings are down as well. You can basically take that as a reflection of the rest of the year," Sofat said.   Continued...