Tourism operators on Kenya's coast are welcoming a decision by the United States to lift travel restrictions for much of the area. The ban prevented U.S. government personnel from visiting the coast and discouraged many tourists from doing the same.
Kenya’s coast offers beautiful beaches, good food, nice resorts, and a relaxed atmosphere. But Al-Shabab attacks and crime threats have hurt tourism.
Now the U.S. has lifted travel bans to much of the coast, from the town of Malindi down to areas near the border with Tanzania. Travel to Lamu island, another popular destination on the Indian Ocean, remains restricted.
“The reason why we lifted the restrictions, while terror and crime threats remain throughout Kenya, the specific circumstances that led to the restriction in the coastal area south of Malindi have changed significantly as a result of positive action by the government of Kenya,” said Tiffany McGriff, press attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
Britain lifted a travel warning to the same areas in June.
And Susan Ongalo, acting CEO of the Kenya Tourism Federation, couldn’t be happier. “Let me tell you, it is going to be a big boost to that region, because looking at the previous month to June, tourism at the coast was really bad and then in June, the UK revised their advisory, and now this is a big boost.”
Ongalo said tourism drove the coast's economy. “I would say it is the biggest supporter of the coast economy because I wouldn’t compare it to anything else,” she said.
The U.S. travel restrictions primarily affected U.S. government personnel, who were officially prohibited from visiting the region. But tourism operators say the restrictions deterred other tourists, some of whom found these kinds of bans invalidated their travel insurance.
“You know the thing is, majorly [the] UK and U.S. are what people are looking at, even if there are certain countries that do not have bans, in terms of traveling, normally they would like to look at those two to see what’s going on, you know,” said Mohammed Omar, general manager at Leopard Resort and Spa in Diani, south of Mombasa.
Tracy Pirie, who manages the Flamboyant hotel in Diani, said that because of security fears, as well as many foreign diplomatic staff and U.N. employees being banned from visiting the region, her business has dropped nearly 80 percent over the last 18 months.
“We lost a lot of reservations, we lost a lot of Nairobi reservations because they said they weren’t allowed to travel to the coast any longer,” she said.
Even though the official ban is gone, a U.S. State Department travel warning, advising Americans of the risks of visiting Kenya, is still in effect.