The first thing to cause a major setback to tourism in the country was the outbreak of Ebola disease in West Africa … in fact, in Far West Africa, several thousands of kilometres away from Nairobi. Actually, if you are in London, Paris, Munich or even New York you are closer to the disease than if you are in Nairobi. And the Kenyan authorities were screening incoming travellers for the disease long before those in the US or elsewhere woke up to it.
Having been in Kenya in February and March I could actually find a sense of relief in this downturn in tourism – the parks were empty of tourists, the minibus hordes were missing, and I had both the Samburu and Maasai Mara national reserves to myself and my happy guests!
This downturn was doing nothing for the local Kenyans though, and many hotels, lodges and safari camps were shut down completely, or running with skeleton crews. The happy, smiling Kenyans were finding it hard to keep smiling.
Then came the cowardly Al Shabaab attack on students – children really – at the university campus in Garissa in the far north of Kenya, close to the border with Somalia. More than 140 died, scores others were injured. The Kenyan security forces, to their credit, killed all the attackers – and according to all reports, responded far quicker and more effectively than they did at the Westgate Mall several years ago.Of course, the knee-jerk reaction in the West was for governments to issue advisories warning their citizens against travel to Kenya. This in the same week that the Boston Marathon bomber was on trial, and two women were arrested in New York for plotting to explode bombs in Manhattan! No travel advisories there… Neither were there any after 9/11, or 7/7 in London.