Business / Industries

Ebola derails Kenyan tourism prospects

By Li Lianxing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-13 14:11

Epidemic fears, safety issues lead to sharp fall in number of Chinese tourists to the African nation, reports Li Lianxing in Nairobi.

Ebola derails Kenyan tourism prospects

The Great Wildebeest Migration may not bring much cheer to the tourism industry in Kenya this year as the Ebola epidemic and rising safety concerns may keep tourists, especially from China, away from the country, industry sources said.

Though prospects look bleak, sources expressed confidence that the industry would be back on track in 2015, spurred by a record surge in the number of Chinese tourists and investment from the world's second-largest economy.

The 1.3 million strong wildebeest herd of Tanzania and Kenya trace a clockwise circuit of East Africa's great grassland plains from June to October every year and the event is described as one of the "Seven New Wonders of the World". It has been a big draw for Chinese tourists in the past few years.

"The peak season for Kenyan tourism normally lasts from June to the end of September, when the great animal migration on the savannah ends. But this year, the market has already cooled and we are now facing a winter of sorts," said Han Jun, chairman of the China General Chamber of Commerce in East Africa, who also runs a travel agency in Nairobi, the Kenya capital.

According to Han, while it is still too early to estimate the number of Chinese tourists to Kenya this year, unofficial statistics point to a year-on-year decline of over 50 percent.

Even as industry officials admit that there has been a sharp loss in business, Phyllis Jepkosgei Kandie, Kenya's minister for East African affairs, commerce and tourism, said the recent setbacks (Ebola and sporadic violence in parts of Africa) have had a limited impact on the tourism industry.

"We expect more Chinese tourists to visit Kenya in the peak season and also throughout next year. Our attractions are not confined to the great animal migration. There are several other sights to see throughout the year," she said.

"Though Kenya is realtively far away from the Ebola epidemic, we are prepared to combat outbreak of the disease. We will ensure that it will not affect tourism sector."

The main focus for Kenya will be to attract more Chinese tourists with tailored services like Chinese cuisine and Chinese language services, the minister said during a recent trip to Beijing. "We are also encouraging more college students in Kenya to learn Chinese," she said.

The Kenyan government has teamed up with an agency in Beijing to promote its tourist attractions in China. This, coupled with direct flights from Nairobi to Shanghai and Beijing by Kenyan Airways would help attract more Chinese tourists, sources said.

Shao Qiwei, former director of the China National Tourism Administration, said: "Cooperation between China and Kenya in the tourism sector has been limited. Concerted efforts are needed to step up the scope of engagements."

He said China should encourage more cooperation between tourism agencies from both sides, establish direct flights to Kenya from China, boost tourism investments in Kenya and train more Kenyan tourism professionals.

During the Kenyan minister's recent trip to China, tourism officials from both sides signed an agreement for further cooperation in the sector.

Ebola derails Kenyan tourism prospects Ebola derails Kenyan tourism prospects
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