How terrorism led to the collapse of tourism at the Kenyan coast

TerrorismBritish tourists queue with their luggage to leave from the international airport in Mombasa, Kenya, on Friday, May 16, 2014. (photo credit: AP)

When Americans, Europeans and other interested countries issue travel advisories they mean well for their people as the safety and security of their citizens is paramount.

In fact that’s one of the cardinal pillars why governments exist; the safety and security of their citizens. Secondly governments expend large amounts of dollars to employ and maintain a huge and sophisticated military, police and other units for security intent.

This means the security of people and property is of great essence to these nations. These nations go a step further and ensure that intelligence and intelligence gathering is paramount in the security edifice. No serious security operations can rely on a lackluster intelligence domain.   

National Intelligence agencies like the CIA are institutions whose professionalism when cast in doubt can bring down a government. Terrorism has cost this country many lives and has allowed a thorough beating of the economy.

Terrorism and the coast

When people talk about the economy, security and terrorism in Kenya; what comes to my mind are tourism and the Coast of Kenya.  Terrorist attacks in this country impact heavily and affect more the Kenya Coast than any other region. A historical trail of the Norfolk bombing, the attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, the Paradise Hotel – Kikambala bombing reveal a deadly beating of the tourism industry at the Coast.

In the event that we have a government which does not have a full proof mechanism on securing our borders and the people from acts of terrorism then that government indeed cares less for the coast.

The coast of Kenya bears the brunt of the net effect of terrorism. For the last two decades since acts of terrorism started happening in Kenya the coast has been left holding the filter end of the cigarette. The bedrock of the economy of the coast of Kenya is tourism.

Also Read: How Kenya’s tourism industry has felt the impact of terrorist attacks

Tourism is about people. It is about international people spending their money to visit for leisure and pleasure. Tourism will flourish when several ingredients are present. These are security, peace and safety of the tourists. Quality products, weather conditions and hospitality are secondary.

Westgate attack

The Westgate mayhem wiped away the first ingredients with the first bullet that was fired. The reaction on the sector was swift and fast. It left the tourism industry in tatters one week after the attack. Then came the Garissa University and Dusit 2 attacks. The swift action by our security apparatus during the Dusit 2 attack was commendable.

That first bullet and the subsequent mishandling of the Westgate attack by the Kenya security apparatus pushed tourism to collapse like a house of cards. No successful tourism marketing campaign can take place if the backdrop is TV screens all over the world showing bombings, massacres and destruction of property and lives in the tourism destination.

Statistics will easily show you that the number of tourists visiting the coast of Kenya has proportionately plummeted to the lowest since the fear of terrorism and the senseless destruction of lives started happening in Kenya.

Avoid beaches

This brings me to the gist of the matter. If this government will not improve its lot on how to handle security matters then tourism at the coast will die a very fast and painful death and even the few tourists will go upcountry and avoid our beaches. Why would they avoid our beaches? Reports about terrorist activities in this country have always linked these terrorists to cells in the coastal cities. This depicts these cities as unsafe and unwelcoming for tourists.

When the economy at the coast sinks to its lowest abyss what we are likely to find is a degenerated law and order system which will be a haven to terrorists. This will result in even a more delicate security situation. Already joblessness is the key for discontent among Kenyan youth who are joining Al-Shaabab.

Joblessness

Islamic extremism is being aggravated by joblessness and the Muslim targeted terrorism searches and invasion of families. When tourism finally takes a bow in tourism rich economies like Malindi, Mombasa and Lamu which are highly populated by young energetic jobless youth a recipe for chaos will be brewing. 

This will render these cities dangerous and therefore earn permanent travel advisories. The allure of sun, sand and the beaches (no – pun intended) of the coast is not enough to guarantee a smooth tourism season. Security and safety of the tourists is a pre-requisite.

The lamentations of tour operators, hoteliers and stakeholders in the tourism sector betray a pain and despair which points at the bleak future of the tourism sector. Great danger lurks in the setting. Urgent things must be done. One of them is for the government to get serious about the security situation in this country. Porous borders must be sealed and intelligence gathering must be professionalized.

Terrorism must be countered with a more serious strategy and security apparatus upgraded to face the modern day sophisticated global terrorism.

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