Western Countries Issue Warnings; Kenyan Tourism Gets Pummeled : Parallels Kenya is heavily reliant on tourism, but advisories by the U.S., Britain and others have contributed to fewer visitors and job losses. Kenyans say the West is punishing them as much as the terrorists.
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Western Countries Issue Warnings; Kenyan Tourism Gets Pummeled

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Western Countries Issue Warnings; Kenyan Tourism Gets Pummeled

Western Countries Issue Warnings; Kenyan Tourism Gets Pummeled

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A wave of terrorism has hobbled the tourist industry in Kenya. That's one of the country's biggest sources of foreign revenue. NPR's Gregory Warner says Kenyans feel they're being punished - not just by terrorists, but also by Western governments.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Baobab Resort, on the south coast of Kenya's Mombasa Island, has the homey feel of a hotel in the Catskills. Each evening, in the on-site amphitheater, you might find the staff singing and dancing their way through a medley of tunes borrowed from American musicals like "The Lion King" and "Mamma Mia." Sylvester Mbandi, the 45-year-old manager, says his resort is all about fun and fellowship.

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SYLVESTER MBANDI: I sometimes also stand and do a bit of dance, or my managers are able to do that.

WARNER: But last month, Mbandi had to gather some guests for a more somber task. The British government had just issued a warning against nonessential travel to Mombasa because of terror threats. Mbandi had the unenviable job of informing 150 British tourists that their travel company, TUI, had decided to cut short their vacations and fly them home the next day.

MBANDI: You could see their faces. Some of the honeymooners just started crying immediately and left the room. Others kept hoping it's a dream. By morning it'll have changed. But it was reality. They had to go back to their country.

WARNER: Two days later, on May 16th, 10 people were killed by twin blasts in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Nairobi was not on the travel ban list, but Mombasa and Kenya's north coast were. And since the travel warnings came out last month from Britain, and the United States, and then Australia and France, 25 hotels in Mombasa have closed. More than 5,000 hotel workers have been laid off or suspended, and these layoffs have rippled out to nearly every local industry. Kwale County minister of tourism, Adam Sheikh, says that Kenyans feel like they're being punished by Western governments after standing with them in the war on terror. He points out that the recent wave of terrorism here only started after Kenya sent troops into Somalia. They're fighting Islamist militants in a war funded largely by American dollars.

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ADAM SHEIKH: We find ourselves in this situation because we have stood with the international community to fight terrorism. Now these terrorists are fighting back. We need our friends to stand by us, not to leave us and make the situation worse than it is already.

WARNER: He says the British travel warnings, in particular, did more damage to the economy than the last six months of terrorist attacks.

SHEIKH: To just slap a ban on us merely because there are a few grenades thrown around - we find this unfair.

WARNER: In Mombasa, I met a German travel agent from Dusseldorf named Lynn Hoffman. Germany is one country that has not put a travel warning on Kenya. But this February, it put one on Egypt. And Hoffman felt it like a chokehold.

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LYNN HOFFMAN: So we can't say to a family - or we can't make an offer to a family traveling to Egypt. When the German government says people are not safe there, you can't do it as a travel agent.

WARNER: The American and British governments say their intention in Kenya is only to protect their citizens. It's not to punish the industry. And they've since clarified that their warnings were only for specific regions and not Kenya as a whole. But county minister Adam Sheikh says that if the warnings feel like a covert economic sanction, it's one that he can see the reason for.

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SHEIKH: They believe that there is too much corruption. Making any effort to rein in these terrorists - useless. All these small arms are getting through our borders right under the noses of some of the security agencies.

WARNER: If that's the real message, then do you think the Kenyan government is listening?

SHEIKH: I think we are listening, but we're overwhelmed.

WARNER: Overwhelmed by economic problems, he says, that in turn fuel more corruption and more terrorism. He argues that it's those economic problems that terror warnings are making worse. Gregory Warner. NPR News, Nairobi.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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