Referendum to help Kenya improve its image in international tourism markets


The peaceful referendum process in which Kenyans voted in favour of the new Constitution should help the country improve its image in international markets and consolidate gains made in the tourism sector, analysts say.

They said the non-violent vote should calm fears and anxiety among visitors and governments that still rate Kenya as a dangerous travel destination.

“Now that the referendum process has passed peacefully and the outcome accepted by all, and with a clear demonstration that true democracy has prevailed, we hope that the US government will remove its travel warning and recognise the political stability in Kenya today,” the chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, Mr Jake Grieves-Cook, said.

Last March, the US State Department amplified a travel warning it had issued against Kenya on July 24 last year, citing terrorism threats and general risk of violence in the country.

“Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings, home invasions/burglaries and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in Nairobi,” reads part of the travel warning posted on the State Department’s website.

In the six months to June, 52, 092 US citizens visited Kenya, representing nine percentage growth over a similar period last year and overtaking the 2007 benchmark arrivals which stood at 48,795.

Mr Grieves-Cook said the travel alert was an obstacle to tourism growth but added that the peaceful plebiscite would help boost the country’s overall image which was battered by the post-election violence in early 2008.

The political strife has been cited as a major contributor to the drop in tourism earnings and arrivals in 2008.

Arrivals dropped to 729,000 compared to 1.04 million the previous year while earnings stood at Sh52.7 billion, down from Sh63.5 billion.

But the sector has showed robust performance, signalling a complete recovery, with analysts saying the approval of the referendum process by diplomats from key source markets should help solidify the momentum seen so far.

In the six months to June, arrivals stood at 483,468, representing a growth of 17 per cent over a similar period last year and beating the 2007 benchmark figures by 5,800 visitors.

Tourism earnings for the first quarter stood at Sh21 billion, doubling the earnings for the same period last year.

“The referendum outcome was widely approved by Western governments who had indicated support for the new Constitution. We should see higher arrivals from the western markets where most tourist come from,” said Renaldo D’Souza, an analyst at Genghis Capital. Europe accounts for nearly half of all tourist arrivals.

Last year, for instance, 456,433 tourists came from the region out of a total of 952,481.