NAIROBI - Kenya on Thursday unveiled a campaign to lure more tourism as it warned the crucial sector was facing a massive slump following a wave of deadly Islamist attacks.
The national tourist board said Kenya's "brand equity" as a top safari and beach destination was at stake, with western nations issuing new warnings advising travellers to avoid many parts of the country due to the threat of attacks by Islamist militants.
It also said rampant poaching of elephants and rhino, together with high crime, was also proving to be a major tourism turn-off.
"In light of recent insecurity incidents affecting the destination, Kenya's reputation as a safe destination has been compromised," said Muriithi Ndegwa, managing director of the Kenya Tourism Board.
"There has been quite an effect, especially on the coast," he added, a week after Britain, France, Australia and the United States urged their nationals to avoid all but essential travel to the coastal city of Mombasa, the scene of a string of recent bombings and shootings.
Last week two British tour operators evacuated hundreds of tourists from resorts near Mombasa.
Tourism is a crucial part of Kenya's economy: according to the most recent figures from 2011, the sector directly or indirectly accounted for 14 percent of economic output and roughly 12 percent of the workforce.
But the number of foreign visitors to Kenya slumped by 11 percent in 2013, when the country was gripped by fears of election-related political violence.
Policemen inspect the scene of an explosion in Gikomba on the outskirts of Nairobi's business district where twin blasts claimed at least ten lives last Friday. PHOTO/AFP
Paramedics take care of an injured man at the Kenyatta National Hospital on the same day. PHOTO/AFP
The current year is expected to also see a similar if not worse slide, particularly in the wake of the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that was claimed by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels and left at least 67 dead.
Kenya has been targeted by the Shebab since sending troops to war-torn Somalia in 2011 to fight them.
The new scheme was unveiled on the same day as a top Shebab chief vowed to bring their war to Kenya.
Tour operators have also complained that last year's introduction of VAT has also pushed up prices, reduced margins and has left Kenya's safari and beach offerings far more expensive than those of neighbouring Tanzania.
The Tourist Board said it would be spending 200 million shillings ($2.23 million) to market the country and "put Kenya's tourism firmly on a recovery path".
Measures planned include a "global online reputation management campaign" -- with the notable aim of trying to get positive news about Kenya score higher in search engine results.
"I wish to assure the international community that Kenya remains a safe destination," Ndegwa said.
Part of the plan also involves trying to lure more tourists from China -- already a major investor in the country. Earlier this week the government said it wanted to attract a million Chinese tourists a year, up from 45,000 at the moment.
Kenya says tourism industry at stake over unrest