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Kenya Tourism Situation

Kenya’s Post Election Tourism Situation and Its Implications For Government Travel Advisories and Travel Insurance

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David Beirman, eTN Australia  Jan 12, 2008

Since the outbreak of violence in parts of Kenya following the controversial December 27, 2007 elections, Kenya’s tourism industry leadership has sought to highlight the distinction between a media-fuelled perception that all of Kenya is burning and the fact that serious acts of post-election violence are confined to a number of specific areas of the country to which tourists do not generally travel. The Kenya Tourism Federation and individual Kenyan based tourism operators have clearly made this point in eTurboNews and other media.

The intensity of violence in parts of Kenya has prompted many governments throughout the world (especially the governments of most of Kenya’s key source markets) to heighten the cautionary level of their travel advisories. Many governments have advised their citizens to avoid what they describe as “non essential” travel to Kenya.

Kenyan tourism officials have pointed out that the wording of the advisories exacerbated by lurid media coverage is creating an extremely negative image of Kenya as a tourism destination and the result has been an immediate drop in forward bookings.

The real conundrum of government travel advisories is that governments who do not issue highly cautionary advisories to Kenya are perceived as “failing” to warn their citizens of potential dangers when travelling abroad are vulnerable to accusations of not protecting their citizens.

Countries such as Kenya which are targeted by negative travel advisories consistently accuse governments of travel generating countries of attempting to undermine their economy. This issue has implications far wider than Kenya’s current situation. During the past few years complaints about Western government travel advisories have been made in Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and other Africa countries.

The UN World Tourism Organisation and PATA are two of the major international tourism associations which have released policy intended to balance the interests of the global tourism industry and government foreign ministries on the issue of travel advisories. The three key issues as they relate to Kenya are:

1. Specificity of the advisory which involves identifying high risk areas.
2. Timeliness of the advisory.
3. Adjustment of the advisories as a given situation changes.

The governments of Canada, UK and Australia which have working agreements in place with their national travel industry leadership are responsive to travel industry concerns on these issues. However, there is a widespread perception among the global diplomatic community that travel industry professionals are more interested in making tourism dollars than they are about tourism safety.

In October 2007 I was involved in a tourism crisis management conference in Toronto, Canada, The keynote address was made by John Nay the US Consul General to Canada who told the delegates that tourism industry opinions were not treated seriously by the US State Department in relation to travel advisories because its assumed that the industry wanted to maintain tourism at almost any cost. I was glad to be present to refute this quite common and erroneous assumption among many diplomats by telling Mr Nay that dead and injured tourists are very bad for the tourism business and that the travel industry shares the same commitment to traveller safety as government foreign ministries with the with the added benefit that tour companies are on the ground in most destinations and very knowledgeable about day-to-day safety conditions.

Conversely, many travel industry professionals have erroneous perceptions about diplomats as a bunch of cosseted, cocktail sipping socialites who are out of touch with events in the countries to which they are posted. In truth, most diplomats are regularly faced with problems in the countries where they serve and have to assist their citizens in police cells, prisons, disaster scenes, and hospitals. In their position diplomats also encounter the seamier side of the country.

Generally speaking, where many diplomatic legations make a major error is in the process of determining the content of travel advisories. Legation staff will approach or consult practically all potential information sources except for the tourism industry primarily because of their negative perceptions of the travel industry motivations.

The key to ensuring that travel advisories are as accurate as possible is to greatly enhance the level of consultation between the travel industry and the diplomatic community. Central to the success of such consultation is that meetings are conducted in a diplomatic manner.

Kenya led the way by organising consultation between Kenyan tourism industry leaders and diplomats posted to Kenya in 2003. It is to be hoped that such contacts are being revived. This consultative approach should be occurring in every country as it proved, with considerable success, in Australia, the UK and Canada in recent years.

A direct implication of travel advisories which has been ignored in most commentary about the Kenyan situation is the issue of travel insurance. Travel insurance policies vary considerably between insurance firms. Some link all insurance coverage to a country on the basis of the wording of travel advisories, some do not. The majority of travel insurers refuse claims which arise from whatever they define as ‘politically motivated violence”. Others will cover politically motivated violence on a case-by-case basis. Some insurers may charge an increased premium to cover claims arising from politically motivated violence.

The issue of insurance cover assumes great importance in relation to tourism to Kenya during this crisis. Discussions between the tourism industry and government foreign ministries should include the travel insurers. Clearly, if tourists are in doubt that their travel insurance company will cover them on a visit to Kenya (or anywhere else), this would be a far more powerful disincentive than a negative travel advisory or a sensationalistic media report.

The issues which have been raised by the current Kenya tourism crisis should be of concern to all travel industry professionals. A global travel industry approach to dealing with government travel advisories and travel insurance issues has been pigeon-holed by the major international tourism associations for too long.

It is one thing to make policy announcements about these matters at sumptuous conferences every so often, but it is now time for international tourism associations to engage with governments and major travel insurers on these issues which could affect any tourism destination at any time.

This process also should be followed on an individual country basis adapting the working models established by the travel industry leaderships of Australia, the UK and Canada to each national environment. Kenya would be a very good place to start.

Kenya’s Post Election Tourism Situation and Its Implications  For Government Travel Advisories and Travel Insurance

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