Kenya Slams Travel Warnings as Tourists Evacuated Over Security

Kenyan tourism officials criticized warnings by the U.S., U.K. and other governments to avoid travel to the country’s coast and described the evacuation of British tourists by one tour operator as “economic sabotage.”

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on May 14 advised against “all but essential travel” to the port city of Mombasa and surrounding areas because of threats to security in the area. The U.S., France, Australia, Canada and Sweden have issued similar advisories. TUI AG, the owner of Europe’s largest tour operator, said today it’s repatriating about 400 customers in Kenya to the U.K. and canceled all flights to Mombasa until Oct. 31.

“The timing sucks” because it follows Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Kenya last week, which had been expected to encourage more visitors from China, Adam Jilo, chairman of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, told reporters today in the capital, Nairobi. “It is economic sabotage.”

Fewer tourists are visiting Kenya after a spate of attacks in the East African country, including an assault by Islamist militants on a Nairobi mall in September that killed at least 67 people. An explosion at a Nairobi outdoor market today has left “several” people injured, according to the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre, as emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene.

Tourist arrivals to the country fell to 1.4 million last year from 1.7 million in 2012. The tourism industry is the nation’s second-biggest source of foreign-exchange, generating $1.1 billion in 2013.

The British foreign office said any U.K. citizens visiting Mombasa, a popular beach-holiday destination for foreign tourists, should leave the area unless they have “an essential reason to remain.” The U.K. is a “key source market” for tourists to Kenya, according to the Kenya Tourism Federation, which urged the British government to withdraw the statement.

“This advisory is a clear indication that the impact of this on investment and employment was not considered,” according to a statement published on the federation’s website.

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