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Kenya eyes $1.2bn lift from tourists as political stability returns

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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TOURISM revenue in Kenya, the country’s second-biggest foreign exchange earner, is forecast to rise to more than 100-billion shillings ($1.2bn) this year, Muriithi Ndegwa, head of the tourism authority, says.

East Africa’s largest economy expects a lift after the passage of peaceful elections in March eased tourists’ concern about violence and political instability, Mr Ndegwa, Kenya Tourism Board MD, said in Nairobi on Monday.

"We expect to surpass the 100-billion shilling mark this year on increased visitors as a result of the peaceful elections," he said.

Arrivals may rise 10%, he predicted. The tourism industry is Kenya’s second-largest source of foreign exchange revenue, following agriculture.

Tea is the country’s largest foreign-income earner.

The main tourist attractions are photo safaris through the 19 national parks and game reserves. Other attractions include the mosques at Mombasa, the famed Great Rift Valley, the coffee plantations at Thika, Mt Kilimanjaro and its view across the border into Tanzania, and the attractive beaches along the Indian Ocean.

Tourism income fell to 96-billion shillings last year from 97.9-billion shillings in 2011, while arrivals into the country were little changed at 1.78-million.

The country, home to game parks including the Maasai Mara in the southwest, and Indian Ocean beaches, has been targeting 3-million visitors by 2015.

Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president during the March 4 elections in Kenya.

But Mr Kenyatta is scheduled to begin trial in November at the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity for organising clashes following a disputed election in December 2007 that left more than 1,100 people dead.

Mr Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, deny the charges.

Both leaders, with the backing of the African Union, have labelled the trial a "western witch-hunt" and proposed that the trials take place in Kenya, and not The Hague. Following the controversial 2007 presidential election and the 2007-08 Kenyan crisis that resulted in 1,300 people killed in tribal violence, tourism revenue plummeted 54%.

It fell to 8.08-billion shillings ($130.5m) from 17.5-billion shillings during the period January to March 2007.

Tourism has also been badly dented by the hovering threat of attacks from al-Shabaab, which warned of retaliation for Kenya sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the militant group.

However, Kenya claims the intervention was at the request of Somalia’s transitional government, which although it controls little, is backed by the international community.

Previously, Nairobi sought to keep al-Shabaab at arm’s length by fighting a proxy war through several southern Somali militias. Clearly this policy has not produced the desired results.

Although it has claimed many successes, the Kenyan army has suffered some embarrassing defeats and casualties in a war seemingly no one will win.

Travel alerts have been issued by foreign governments including those of the US and UK after the murder and kidnapping of foreign visitors on the country’s coast, and grenade attacks in Nairobi and the northern region.

The bulk of visitors to Kenya are from the West, although the country is trying hard to encourage visitors from the continent and from Asia to visit its pristine tourism offerings as well as cultural tourism.

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