Atlanta tourism promoters say Kenya is back on the map after a March 21 U.S. State Department travel advisory noted the east African nation’s return to political stability and security.
Kenya degenerated into political turmoil when presidential challenger Raila Odinga accused re-elected President Mwai Kibaki of vote rigging in the Dec. 27, 2007 election. Several months of rioting ended when the two signed a power-sharing agreement Feb. 28.
With this agreement in place, Janet Russell, president of Atlanta’s chapter of the Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa, told GlobalAtlanta she is confident that the tourist industry will recover fully from the disruption.
“Now that everything has calmed down we are encouraging our clients to book up because (tour programs) will fill up,” she said.
This recovery is already underway, as European tourists began returning to the country 10 days before the agreement was signed, according to the Web site of the Kenyan Embassy in Washington.
Also Mr. Kibaki announced the launch of the Brand Kenya Board March 18, a government effort to get the tourist industry back on track and promote the country abroad, according to news reports.
Akanmu Adebayo, a professor and director of the institute for global initiatives at Kennesaw State University, agreed that Kenya’s tourist industry has the potential to improve rapidly, saying that African countries have a tendency to recover quickly from political disturbances.
“As soon as those political solutions are found, normalcy returns more quickly than in other places,” he said. “The facilities to support tourism were not terribly damaged and the network of people who depend on tourism for economic survival is still there.”
Dr. Adebayo also said that the Kenyan government has a stake in bringing tourists back as the industry is one of the country’s biggest sources of revenue.
Ms. Russell said that the tourist industry is vital to Kenya’s employment, gross domestic product and wildlife conservation.
“It’s critical we get the people of Kenya back to work in tourism,” she said, adding that tourist revenues provide an incentive to save endangered wildlife.
The association is a nationwide organization of travel agents and others interested in promoting Africa as a tourist destination. The Atlanta chapter has approximately 80 members and hosts government officials and tour operators from all over Africa.
Despite regular presentations, Ms. Russell said that it can be difficult to promote Africa because of a lack of real knowledge about the continent.
“For most Americans, Africa’s a giant unknown,” she said. “It’s just a faraway place previously not easily accessible.”
Accessibility is becoming less of a problem, especially from Georgia. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. has made Africa an integral part of its international growth strategy. By the end of the year the airline is to have flights to seven African cities: Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; Lagos, Nigeria, from Atlanta and Accra, Ghana; Cairo, Egypt; Cape Town, South Africa; and Nairobi, Kenya, from New York.
The association promotes the continent as a multidimensional tourist destination but has an interest in conservation through tourism. APTA partnered with Zoo Atlanta to host a representative of a gorilla tour agency in Rwanda and Uganda last year.
This fall the Atlanta chapter will partner with Laurie Marker, founder of the Otjiwarongo, Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund to spread awareness of her efforts to save the world’s fastest land animal.
Representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania have all made presentations in Atlanta through the association in the past year.
Ms. Russell said that Americans traveling to Africa should seek the advice of a travel agent in planning their trip.