Kenya fumes as Western security warnings drive tourists out
NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenya rebuked Britain, the United States, France and Australia on Thursday for issuing warnings about travel to the east African country, while hoteliers said at least 400 tourists had checked out of hotels along the Indian Ocean coast.
Kenya called the alerts "unfriendly", saying they would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the gun and grenade assaults that have hit the capital Nairobi and the coastal resort of Mombasa.
Explosions in both cities on the weekend of May 3-4, one of them at a luxury seaside hotel, killed seven people, although no one was hurt in the hotel attack. Kenya blames the blasts on the al Qaeda-linked Somali group al Shabaab.
The warnings and departures by tourists from hotels along the popular coast are further harming Kenya's tourism sector, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has said is "on its knees" following the deadly attacks.
Australia urged its citizens to reconsider trips to Nairobi and Mombasa "due to the high threat of terrorist attack and high level of crime". France warned of an elevated risk in Kenya, especially in those cities.
Kenyan authorities say they have beefed up security after the attacks, and deported foreigners without proper documents.
But tourists were still leaving. At least 400 checked out of their hotels, heeding the travel advisories, according toSam Ikwaye of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers. "We fear many more will leave," Ikwaye told Reuters.
Planes had been chartered to fly out the departing tourists.
Augustine Conall, a British national, told journalists at the Moi International airport in Mombasa, he had cut short his three-week holiday by a week, worried that his insurance would no longer be valid.
"Our families are also worried and are calling us and telling us to go back," he said.
Another Briton, Matilda Evan, said: "Six days of my holiday have gone to waste just like that. But again, when your government tells you to leave for security reasons, what else can do you do?"
Tourist arrivals in Kenya fell 15.8 percent to 1.49 million last year as security worries kept visitors away. Britain is the country's biggest source of visitors.
Tourism is one of Kenya's biggest foreign exchange earners, employing 150,000 people. Travel agents said they hoped other destinations in the great Rift Valley and around Mount Kenya would still attract visitors.
Western diplomats have privately said Kenyan security forces - which receive aid and training from the United States, Britain and Israel among others - are weakened by inter-agency rivalries that hamper intelligence work.