The recent Westgate attack in Kenya has been all over the news. With 69 people dead, including four Britons, it has been one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s history. It all started with a hostage situation when 15 armed gunmen stormed a shopping Centre located in Westgate on Saturday night. The hostage situation soon turned bloody, and in the aftermath, a lot of tourists lost their lives. Naturally, this has left Kenyan tourism in an extremely precarious situation.
Especially, in the wake of a series of an incident that has taken place recently. Only last month there was an acid attack on two tourists in the island of Zanzibar, which lies off the coast of neighbouring Tanzania. The incidents include the abduction of two foreign tourists and the murder of another on the Lamu archipelago in 2011. These have only come as a setback to Kenyan tourism, which is still recovering from the disputed Kenyan elections of 2007/08, and the subsequent violence that left hundreds dead.
Even though none of the embassies issued an official travel security warning, most did amend their travel advice to include the mention of the Westgate attack. The British advice, for example, said that “A major attack has taken place at the Westgate Shopping Centre in the Westlands district of Nairobi”. “The incident is still ongoing, with reports of a number of casualties and hostages. Armed Kenyan security forces are on the scene. We advise British nationals to avoid the area and exercise extreme caution. Concerned British nationals are advised to contact the FCO helpline on +44 (0)20 7008 0000 and to keep monitoring travel advice.”
Other embassies have issued advice to not make any but essential travel to Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, and other “low-income areas”. Tourists are advised to avoid places such as its townships and slums, as well as to all areas within 60km of the Kenya-Somalia border.
In an attempt to regain the faith of international communities, and to revive Kenya’s tourism Phyllis Kandie, the cabinet secretary for commerce and tourism, insisted that prospective visitors to the country would be safe. According to her statement:
“The tourism sector joins other Kenyans in consoling the bereaved families, including those of foreigners, who have lost their lives during the Westgate attacks. We wish to assure tourists that Kenya is peaceful and our security agencies are doing everything possible to ensure that everyone is safe. Visitors are thus welcome to visit all our tourist facilities across the country, which are operating normally.
Tour operators and travel agents have confirmed that tourism activities continue uninterrupted. The government has also scaled up security in other social places across the country.”
Even the Kenyan president has assured the safety of tourists visiting the country and asked the foreign governments to not to issue travel warnings to its citizens to avoid harming Kenya’s important tourism industry. The Kenyan tourism department has even maintained the schedule of two African conferences, the Africa Hotel and Investment Forum and the Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, in order to show the normalization and continuity of the country.