Plans for their life time dream holiday to Kenya were complete when all of a sudden the United Kingdom slapped a travel advisory warning its citizens that the East African country was insecure following the kidnapping of a British woman near Lamu.
Australian born tourist, Ben Larsen, 30, and his Canadian born wife Kathryn Kennedy, 31, said the travel advisory shattered their hopes of coming to Mombasa on holiday.
“Our plans to come to Kenya for holiday were complete when suddenly we learnt about the travel advisory on UK television stations and newspapers,” said Mr Larsen.
But since they were determined to make their holiday’s dream come true, they sought advice from their UK travel agent.
Their travel agent assured them that Kenya was a safe destination despite the kidnapping incidents which involved a British woman and a French woman on the Lamu archipelago.
“Whatever we saw on TV and newspapers were terrifying; it was as though the whole Kenya was in turmoil,” Mr Larsen explained. “But we felt the urge to inquire from our travel agent so as to get the right picture.
“Our agent told us that the Lamu incidents were just isolated cases and that all was well in Kenya. He assured us that country was very much safe for holidays.”
After the assurance, the couple made their holiday preparations, yearning for wild safaris and sun, sand and sea. They arrived in Mombasa on November 1, and what they saw here was a different picture.
“Since we arrived in Mombasa to date, we have been enjoying our stay without any security problems,” a beaming Mr Larsen said.
“What we saw on TV back home was quite ridiculous as the media blew things out of proportion giving a wrong impression of this beautiful country.
“We have travelled to Tsavo National Park where we spent three good days, just to see the lions, elephants, zebras among other creatures in their natural habitat.”
The Nation asked them what message they had for potential British tourists who probably want to come to Kenya for holidays but have developed cold feet due to the travel advisory.
“We have friends who were planning to come to Kenya but they told us that they are worried about their safety.
“But we called them and assured them that everything is fine here. When we travel home we will recommend to friends that Kenya is a safe destination.
“When we got here on holiday we called our relatives and told them that we were very secure. We spend our time having fun on the beach. Kenyans are very friendly people.”
Mr Larsen works for Warner Music in London while Kathryn works as a freelance production manager.
Another British tourist, Umesh Lad, 35, who is on holiday in Kenya for the seventh time, said he feels secure and has been enjoying his holiday without any worries.
Mr Lad said incidents of kidnapping or other kinds of insecurities happen in every part of the world including the UK, adding that Mombasa was very safe for holidays.
The tourist said he spent a week in Nairobi with his wife and their seven-month-old baby and they did not feel that their lives were under threat.
“We are here for a two-week holiday and we just feel at home. There is nothing to worry about. Such incidents happen even in London,” he added.
“I told my relatives back home that all is well here in Kenya and we are having a good time. When back I will just tell friends and neighbours to come here on holiday,” he said.
Another British couple, Sam Nolan, 31, and Kate Nolan, 33, said they got worried at the time a British woman was kidnapped in Lamu, but later they realised that Mombasa and other parts of Kenya were fine.
The Nolans added that so far, they have visited Maasai Mara Game Reserve where they saw lots of wildlife, as well as Nakuru National Park, the Aberdares, and other tourist destinations.
“When we arrived in Kenya last month, we were a bit worried about our safety. But now we feel there is nothing to worry about. We feel secure at our hotel and in all areas we have been visiting,” they said.
The tourists are on holiday at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort in Mombasa. Despite the Lamu security concerns, international tourist arrivals are high at the Coast, and include visitors from emerging markets of Eastern Europe.
Although November is relatively not a busy tourist month, hotel bed occupancies in the North Coast are between 70 and 90 per cent compared to 50 and 60 per cent in the same period last year.
Tourism minister Najib Balala has attributed the rise to diversification of tourist markets in Eastern Europe and Asia as well as vigorous marketing campaigns in traditional source markets — United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.
Mr Balala said efforts by the Kenya Tourist Board to spread wings to emerging markets of Russia, Poland, Sweden, Finland, China and India have paid dividends, as tourists from Eastern Europe were coming in for the first time.
The minister noted that a charter airline from Poland made a maiden flight to Mombasa last month with more than 200 holidaymakers, while a Russian charter airline, Orenair brought in 180 tourists and travel agents.
Charter airlines from Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Finland are expected to enter the local skies for the first time in December.
The country also expects more tourists from Czech Republic and Hungary between December and early next year.
Holidaymakers from China, he said, soared to 30,000 this year compared to 20,000 last year, adding that tourist arrivals from India and France are also on the increase.
The robust growth of tourist arrivals, he added, demonstrates that the industry has not been affected by the recent kidnapping of a British woman and French woman in Lamu as they were isolated cases.
“It is encouraging that more holidaymakers are pouring in from new source markets of Eastern Europe after our vigorous campaigns in recent times,” he told the Nation in an interview.
Last year, at least 1,095,945 million international tourists visited the country compared to 952,481 in 2009.
The industry earned the country Sh73.4 billion last year compared to more than Sh62 billion in 2009. The Kenya Tourist Board projects the industry to grow by 10 per cent this year.