(eTN) – Embassies and High Commissions in Nairobi were swift to react to the second abduction of a foreign national from the sun-drenched beaches of Kenya’s Indian Ocean shores last weekend and introduced an “all but essential personnel” travel ban for their own staff and citizens to the area between the Somali border, extending now to a staggering 150 kilometers. This covers the entire coastline well beyond Lamu but has “for the moment,” as it was put to this correspondent, “not gone as far as Malindi,” according to a diplomatic source in Nairobi.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, extending it even to the mission the source is attached to, the following was said: “After the first abduction, all missions were monitoring the reaction by the Kenyan security forces very closely. This second incident now shows that not enough has been done to secure visitor safety along this more remote part of Kenya. It is appreciated that Lamu is a major tourism attraction for foreign visitors, but our loyalty and concern and duty is towards our nationals, which is the same with every other High Commission or Embassy also. The scale of 150 kilometers is valid for now but under constant review, so that it can be adjusted if necessary.”
Tourism stakeholders from Kenya, including the airlines flying regular services from Nairobi and Mombasa/Malindi to Lamu, have expressed concern over the “blanket exclusions zone,” as one put it in an overnight communication, citing a potentially crippling development for hotels and resorts in Lamu and the area now under travel embargo.
“There are some smaller resorts north of Malindi, which are popular; we were having some tourism in the Tana river delta and, of course, resorts in Lamu itself. Overseas tour operators will follow such travel embargoes, because they fear to be held liable in case something else happens.
“Occupancies in such resorts and hotels will fall, and it could ruin them financially. Scheduled flights might also be affected. Right now the media [is] flocking in, but when that is over, will tourists fly from Nairobi to Lamu, or from Mombasa to Lamu? There is no appeal mechanism for us when foreign embassies declare such travel embargoes, and the media hype right now seems to feed on fears and suppositions.
“Our government will have to come up with some very serious action now, or the last quarter of 2011 could see a reverse of all our gains we have made this year. We have a navy and an airforce and an army, which should secure our borders, keep our visitors and citizens safe, so let them step up,” said one regular contributing source from Mombasa, while most others were uncharacteristically quiet and unwilling to comment.
Kenya is currently on track to reach record arrival figures and revenues from tourism, and occupancies on flights and in hotels, resorts, and safari lodges will be closely monitored in the coming weeks to see if the trend holds or if these recent security incidents may have tipped the scale.