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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 16:46 GMT
Hotel bomb threatens Kenya's economy
Paradise Hotel, Kikambala where the car bomb exploded
Kenya's tourist hotels range from luxury to mid-market

The economic impact of the deadly suicide bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Indian Ocean and the missile attack on an Israeli plane at Mombasa airport could be devastating.

The hotel is exclusive to the Israeli market

Betty Buyu, Kenya Tourist Board managing director
Spending by tourists who flock to Kenya's beaches and game reserves makes up 12% of the East African country's economy.

About half a million Kenyans depend on the travel industry for a living.

Of these people, 300,000 work directly in the industry, while 200,000 work in other sectors which benefit from it.

Double blow

But even those figures do not convey the potential impact on Kenya's economy.

Tourism is among the country's top four earners of foreign exchange, after tea, coffee and exports of fresh vegetables and flowers to European supermarkets.

Losing such a vital source of hard currency would make it harder for Kenya to pay for imports.

Hoping for business as usual

No wonder the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) has rushed to reassure travellers that "Kenya continues to operate as usual".

"All airports including Moi International Airport in Mombasa will remain open and all flights are operating as normal...this isolated tragic incident will not affect our tourist trade," said a statement from Betty Buyu, the KTB's managing director.

The Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) has declined to comment on the bombing.

Travel industry sources said officials were meeting to review the situation, though it remains too soon to guess at the possible scale of lost business.

Recovery in doubt

The tragedy for Kenya is that its tourist industry has been successfully sprucing up its marketing with an injection of funding from the European Union.

"Christmas has been looking strong and tourism is well on course for this year", sources close to the Kenyan government told BBC News Online.

"Obviously Kenya suffered the dip that many destinations did (since 11 September) but it turned the market around" a KTB spokesman said.

The KTB won awards at a global travel industry fair in London earlier this month and 16 new tour operators added Kenya to their list of destinations, the KTB said.

Israelis targeted

On average, about 1 million visitors a year flock to Kenya, industry sources said.

The UK and Germany are Kenya's top two tourism markets, followed by Switzerland, Italy and the USA.

More people visit Kenya from Britain than any other country, about 80,000 in an average year, and numbers have been rising, travel industry sources said.

Red Cross workers carry bodies away from Paradise Hotel
The bomb could undermine a major tourism marketing drive
Kenya is a popular destination with Israelis, the targets of Thursday's attacks.

"The hotel is exclusive to the Israeli market," the KTB managing director's statement said, before expressing sympathy "to the friends and families of those who have lost loved ones in this attack".

Security links

The country's tourism authorities are also concerned that the car bombing of the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala might panic other countries' nationals into staying at home.

Israel's contribution to Kenyan tourism is not significant. There are not enough Israeli visitors to push the conflict-torn Middle East country into Kenya's top 20 tourist markets, industry sources said.

But mid-market tourism is concentrated in a few kilometres of hotel-lined beaches between Mombasa and Malindi, and visitors say the area is noticeably popular with Israelis.

Discussion on the effect of terrorism on tourism
Simon Calder, the Independent newspaper and Rock Klanc-nik, World Tourism Organisation

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