Judging by the target, the siege can be seen as an attack on Kenya tourism. The Westgate Premier Mall was a popular destination for locals, expats and travelers. Tourism and Commerce Secretary Phyllis Kandie condemned the act as “a despicable act of cowardice intended to instill fear among Kenyans and our visitors.”
Visitors have a right to feel cautious. Of the more than 60 fatalities, there were three British and two Canadian citizens, and several Americans were wounded.
The Kenyan government is going to great steps to reassure travelers of their safety in Kenya. In a press conference, Kandie noted that tourist facilities throughout the country were operating normally. Kandie also commented, “We are here therefore to affirm that life is going on normally in all parts of the country despite this grave and enormous challenge.”
As a response to the attacks, Kandie did confirm that the government has also “scaled up security in social places.”
Tourism is not just about perception. It’s also about the bottom line. The Kenya economy took a staggering hit when tourism nearly evaporated in 1998 following terrorist acts in Nairobi.
There are no direct figures yet, but some safari operators, airlines and hotels are already reporting a huge spike in cancellations.
Two tourism conferences–Africa Hotel and Investment Forum and the Eco Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference–scheduled to happen this week in Nairobi are continuing as planned.
Currently, tourism is 12.5 percent of the GDP of Kenya, making it the country’s second largest product, second only to agriculture. Kenya saw 1.8 million visitors in 2012. Tourism accounts for $7 billion (600 billion Kenyan Shillings) of country’s investment forecast over the next 10 years.
The biggest concern for Kenya is formal tourism warnings. Both Kandie and President Uhuru Kenyatta have urged the U.S. and Britain not to issue travel advisories.
The U.S. Department of State still has the same travel alert that was in place as of July 5, 2013:
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya. U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas. The levels of risk vary throughout the country. This replaces the Travel Warning of January 14, 2013, to update information about the current security situation.
The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya.
The British Foreign Council had not changed its official travel advice on Kenya but did include the following.
A major attack has taken place at the Westgate shopping centre in the Westlands district of Nairobi. The incident is still ongoing, with reports of a number of casualties and hostages. Armed Kenyan security forces are on the scene. If you are worried about British friends or relatives, you can contact the FCO helpline on +44 (0)20 7008 0000.
Until the incident is resolved, you should avoid the area around the shopping centre and other public or crowded places, and limit your movements around the city. Exercise a heightened level of vigilance. Monitor local and international media and keep up to date with this travel advice by subscribing to email alerts.
185,967 British nationals visited Kenya in 2012. Most visits are trouble-free.
At the time of writing, the U.S. state department’s advice also remained unchanged.
Canada issued the following advisory following the event:
Kenya – Exercise a high degree of caution
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Kenya. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the increasing number of terrorist acts, kidnappings and incidents of crime targeting Westerners throughout the country.
On September 21, 2013, an attack on Westgate Mall in the Westlands area of Nairobi left at least 59 people dead and as many as 175 injured. Remain highly vigilant and avoid public places in the next 24 – 48 hours.
The High Commission of Canada in Nairobi has reopened to provide emergency consular assistance only. Canadians requiring emergency consular assistance should call the High Commission of Canada in Nairobi. They may also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885.
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com