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Alarm as delegates call off conferences in fear of terror attacks at Coast

A deserted swimming pool at the Mombasa Beach Hotel. Tourist facilities at the Coast have reported low visits following terror alerts.  [Photo: Omondi Onyango/Standard]

By Philip Mwakio and Benard Sanga

Mombasa, Kenya: Four international conferences scheduled to be held in Mombasa city have been cancelled and one postponed indefinitely due to simultaneous terror alerts.

Separately, several Western consulates in Mombasa are said to have scaled down operations and requested additional Kenyan police. It was not clear how much hotels had lost after the cancellations or how they would be compensated.

One of the conferences, funded by the United States Aid agency (USaid), was to be held at Sai Rock this morning to discuss family planning matters.

Robert Kiri, Sai Rock’s general manager, told The Standard on Monday that organisers sent an email to the hotel after the advisories were issued informing them of the cancellation.

“The hotel is enjoying a 70 per cent booking capacity, most of them local tourists and conferences, but the advisory has led to the postponement of one of our two-day conference to deliberate on family planning that was sponsored by USaid,” said Kiri.

And an international meeting organised by the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, to be held at the popular Mombasa Serena Beach Resort & Spa on June 18 and which was to be attended by 20 delegates, has been cancelled due to travel advisories issued by the UK, Australia and the US.

Mombasa Serena General Manager Tuva Mwahanga said Tuesday another workshop, organised by the World Bank and which was to run from May 15 to 20 at this hotel, was called off over security concerns.

And at the Travellers Beach Hotel, an International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) congress for Africa to be attended by delegates from different continents, has been postponed indefinitely.

Travellers Sales and Marketing Manager Wafula Boniface Waswa said the ITF congress was slated for May 25 with 30 delegates expected to attend. The congress was to discuss oil and gas, with delegates and facilitators from across the world.

Emerging markets

Waswa also said organisers of a wedding which was to take place at the hotel and run for three days in June for a Kenyan bride and a British groom hangs in the balance.

“We have tailor-made wedding packages on offer but with the travel advisories, there is uncertainty over the whole event,” he said.

A total of 170 guests, 100 from Britain, had been booked for three days at the hotel for the wedding.

But at the Government-owned Mombasa Beach Hotel, Sales and Marketing Manager Maureen Oketch said the facility expects to host several local workshops and seminars.

“We are even getting inquiries and confirmed bookings for seminars in our two smaller lodges at Voi in Tsavo East National Park and Ngulia Safari Lodge in Tsavo West,” she said.

Kwale County Executive in charge of Tourism and ICT Adam Sheikh has asked the Government to immediately grant a suspension of the 16 per cent Value Added Tax it had imposed on the sector.

Sheikh, a veteran hotelier, said this would help lower rates for holidays and attract more tourists.

“The industry, though in its traditional low season, requires urgent incentives to resuscitate it after the advisories have dealt a major blow to international arrivals in the country,” Sheikh said.

In the meantime, the country’s top tourism marketer, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has presented its immediate outlook and focus on Kenya’s tourism.

According to Jacinta Nzioka, marketing director of KTB, over the past years, a percentage of visitors from Europe has declined overall in favour of significant rise in arrivals from new and emerging markets like China, Russia, India and notably Africa.

“These are areas where KTB now intends to give greater prominence in promotional activities,” she said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has criticised Western nations and said the country would focus its energies on tapping into domestic and regional tourism and shop for tourists in other nations.

In the meantime, the national carrier, Kenya Airways will later this year launch additional flights to China with Shanghai and Beijing being the expected new destinations. Kenya Airways is also eyeing more destinations in India.

Africa’s youngest and fastest growing fleet, RwandAir now connects five West African destinations to Kigali and flies from there to Mombasa, allowing for packages to be marketed across their network, as does Air Uganda which flies from Entebbe nonstop to Mombasa.

At the same time, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda will shortly launch a new preferential visa for expatriates living in the neighbouring countries to encourage more of them to come to Mombasa and Malindi, visit the gorilla parks in Rwanda or take a river safari in Murchisons Falls National Park, Uganda.

The East African Tourism Platform, the private sector umbrella body for East Africa’s tourism associations, has already lobbied for such visa to be given free of charge to expatriates holding work or residence permits in any of the member States, a move which could provide an immediate travel boost by such a target group from say Rwanda and Uganda to Mombasa.