Turmoil Takes Toll on Kenya's Tourism Industry
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Kenyans are also taking stock, literally, of the cost of the turmoil. The impact on Kenya's economy, especially tourism, is now being assessed. From the capital, Nairobi, NPR's Ofeibea Quist Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST ARCTON: At least 1,000 people have been killed, 300,000 more have been driven from their homes in a frenzy of ethnic bloodshed. Shops and businesses were looted and trashed. This past Tuesday, business leaders again appealed to Kenya's feuding politicians to stop the violence.
Speaking on behalf of 300 CEOs, Michael Joseph, the boss of the mobile phone company Safaricom, said a political solution was urgently needed.
Mr. MICHAEL JOSEPH (Safaricom): Every day that there's another delay, more of our business is lost and becomes irrecoverable. People can say we're putting profit first, but we're not. We're putting our country first. Because without our businesses there's no jobs. So you know, for us it's really, really important. The politicians believe you turn on a switch after the conclusion of the negotiations and the economy's back to normal. It's not going to be like that. And then what's going to happen to pay for all of this? Taxes will have to go up.
QUIST ARCTON: Kenya's business bosses held talks this past week with the former United Nations chief, Kofi Annan, who's trying to broker a peaceful settlement between President Mwai Kibaki and his political opponent, Raila Odinga. Annan said in times of crisis everyone had an important role to play.
Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Former United Nations Secretary-General): People are losing their jobs, children aren't able to go to school, so I am extremely delighted that the business community is taking leadership here.
QUIST ARCTON: Nearly every part of the economy has been hit, from small businesses to the giant horticultural farms that have made Kenya a leading exporter of cut flowers. But hardest hit is the beach resort and wildlife safari industry, Kenya's top foreign exchange earners.
Over the past month, 20,000 people have lost their jobs in tourism. It's high season now and there should be 30,000 visitors here. Yet dozens of hotels in Kenya's coastal capital, Mombassa, have been forced to close down. The sparkling white beaches overlooking the blue waters of the Indian Ocean are virtually empty.
A worried Pamela Ongeri(ph), owner of Park Adventures Safari at Serena(ph) Beach, says bookings are way down and job losses have begun.
Ms. PAMELA ONGERI (Park Adventures Safari): First and foremost we had cancellations. We had so many cancellations. Most of the tourists, they come to Kenya around this time. And we had to do refunds, which is a very hard thing in our business, and we had to lay off some workers being like there's no business. So I realize it's better they stay home for some time as we wait. Maybe after the business can resume they can come back.
QUIST ARCTON: Fawan Sadil(ph) is a tour guide also in Mombassa.
Mr. FAWAN SADIL (Tour Guide): Our work is to guide tourists when they come here around (unintelligible), the whole town, or go with them on safaris, like Malindy(ph) National Park. Since the violence started there has been a decline, steep decline in business. Still, the situation has grown from bad to worse and now it's worst. Right now for the last two weeks we have not handled any tourists around here.
QUIST ARCTON: It's the same story wherever you go, no business. About a quarter of a million Kenyans were directly employed in the tourist industry, with about another three million making their living from related activities - taxis, restaurants, cafes, souvenirs and curios.
Business leader Michael Joseph says that by year-end the chaos of the past few weeks could've cost Kenya more than $3.5 billion.
Mr. JOSEPH: Over the last 40 years we said this is a safe and secure country, but we've been proved wrong, and you know, we must get back the confidence not just of national economy but the international community as well.
QUIST ARCTON: That's what most Kenyans are hoping for. Joseph says any hold-up in resolving the post-election turmoil risks plunging the country deeper into crisis. And, he warns, there may be no Kenya to govern and no people to tax.
Ofeibea Quist Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi.
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