(Updates with details)
By Hereward Holland
NAIROBI, May 2 Kenyan tourism suffered a major setback because of violence following a disputed presidential election, with revenues down 54 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter of 2008, the tourist board said on Friday.
It said revenues of the industry, a key foreign exchange earner for the East African country, plummeted to 8.08 billion shillings ($130.5 million) from 17.5 billion shillings in January-March 2007.
Foreign tour operators suspended trips to Kenya after President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in December triggered ethnic clashes in which 1,200 people died.
The Kenya Tourist Board said tourist arrivals fell 45 percent to 274,419 in the first three months of 2008 from 501,863 in the same period last year while occupancy rates dropped to an average 30 percent compared with 86 percent in the year ago period.
"The sector anticipated to earn an estimated 21 billion shillings in the first quarter of 2008. However with the circumstances that faced the destination, earnings for the quarter declined ... to 8.08 billion shillings," said board managing director Ongong'a Achieng.
The political crisis in Kenya has now been resolved with the installation last month of a power-sharing coalition cabinet.
"We are not on a downward trend, we are on the path to recovery. We are going to brave the crisis and showcase Kenya as a stable and safe tourist destination," Achieng said while announcing a new marketing campaign.
He said tourists from China braved the post-election violence better than their western counterparts, with numbers dropping just 10.7 percent in the first quarter, compared with a decline of over 50 percent in Europe and the United States.
Although there are few Asian tourists at present, Achieng said he was optimistic that increasing Chinese and Indian business interests in Africa would encourage Asians to pick Kenya as a holiday destination.
"Most of the Asian tourists are discovering that Africa is an attractive alternative. It could even reach and surpass those mature markets, like the U.S."
Kenya's wildlife parks and Indian Ocean beaches are a traditional favourite with tourists from Britain, the United States, Canada and elsewhere.
Tourism brought in 64.5 billion shillings in 2007, making it the second highest foreign exchange earner after horticulture. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit africa.reuters.com/) (Editing by Gerrard Raven)