World News

Kenya tourist numbers down by a quarter so far in 2015

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The number of visitors to Kenya fell by 25 percent in the first five months of 2015, according to tourism board figures, showing just how badly the industry has been damaged by a spate of Islamist militant attacks that have killed hundreds.

People walk on Shela beach in Lamu, an island in the Indian Ocean off the northern coast of Kenya March 25, 2013 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Tourism is a vital foreign exchange earner for the east African nation, which boasts palm-fringed beaches and safari trails, but a two-year slump has forced hotels to shut, cut job numbers and sent the shilling to 3-1/2-year lows.

Visitor numbers fell to 284,313 from 381,278 in January to May 2014, a drop of 25.4 percent, according to Kenya Tourism Board figures obtained by Reuters. That follows a fall of 4.3 percent a year before.

The number of visitors from Britain, the biggest contingent, fell by 35 percent to 36,022 in the period. Tourist arrivals from the United States dropped 22 percent to 30,083.

“Tackling insecurity decisively remains the top priority of the government’s strategy to sustain the growth momentum of the economy while creating jobs and reducing poverty,” Finance Ministry Henry Rotich said in Thursday’s 2015/16 budget speech.

Kenya has been hit by a series of attacks by Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamists in the past two years. Gunmen raided Nairobi’s shopping mall in 2013, coastal towns in 2014 and a university in April this year. More than 400 people have been killed.

“These terrorist activities continue to undermine the investment climate in the country and have contributed to the loss of jobs and declining activity in our tourism industry,” Rotich said.

His budget for the year starting July 1 allocated 5.2 billion shillings ($53.4 million) for “tourism recovery”.

In the 2015/16 budget that saw the deficit climb to 8.7 percent, a level economists said was cause for concern, he outlined plans to boost spending on the security services.

Diplomats say Kenya’s campaign against militants has been hampered by rivalries between security agencies.

One Western diplomat said the recent creation of centres on the coast to coordinate between agencies and share intelligence has helped, but said it needed to be extended across the nation.

($1 = 97.3500 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Louise Ireland