NAIROBI, July 28 A leading Kenyan hotel chain
has disputed official figures for tourist arrivals, saying
violent attacks by militant Islamists have scared away far more
tourists than the authorities admit.
The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) said on Friday that arrivals
in the first four months of the year were down 4 percent from a
year earlier to 381,000.
TPS Eastern Africa, which operates the Serena
chain of hotels, luxury lodges and tented camps, said in a
weekend statement: "We must be joking!"
It said its own survey for the first half of the year showed
business on the important coastal tourism circuit fell by 30-50
percent on last year while inland trips to destinations such as
to the Maasai Mara game reserve and Mount Kenya had fallen by 20
Tourism is a leading source of foreign currency for east
Africa's biggest economy and the government has been trying to
encourage the sector to grow and create jobs.
But last year's attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, followed
by gun and grenade attacks at beach resorts, have prompted some
western nations to warn their citizens against travel to parts
of Kenya, leading to even fewer tourists at resorts along the
Indian Ocean coast in recent weeks.
Arrivals in the same period a year ago were depressed by a
presidential election in March, which passed off peacefully
despite fears of a repeat of the violence of the previous
election in 2007.
Mureithi Ndegwa, the tourist board's chief executive, said
its numbers are for the period preceding a wave of deadly
attacks on the coastal county of Lamu since mid-June in which
more than 100 people have been killed.
TPS said the board's statement was "not in touch with the
reality on the ground," adding: "We wonder if KTB and the Kenya
tourism industry live in the same Kenya."
A media relations consultant for KTB told Reuters by
telephone on Monday the figures issued were based on landing
cards filled out by visitors to the country.
Tourist arrival figures for the first half of the year will
be released in the next three weeks, the official said.
Some 900 tourists cut short their holidays after Britain
issued a warning about Mombasa on May 14.
Tourist numbers slid last year to 1.5 million after an
all-time peak of 1.8 million in 2011.
TPS said the drop in visitors was causing job lay-offs and
hurting suppliers in sectors such as farming and manufacturing
that provide supplies and services to hotels.
"It is not business as usual - let us not kid ourselves,"
the TPS group said.
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by James Macharia/Ruth