Dispatch, Kenya: Preparing to visit a country in crisis

Baran's Kenya hedshotTravel Weekly reporter Michelle Baran has embarked on a 10-day trip to Kenya, to report on how recent violence in the country is affecting tourism. She will spend some time in Nairobi speaking to tourism officials before going on safari.

Day 1, London -- More than 1,000 people are dead. The Peace Corps has pulled out of the country. Two opposition politicians have been killed. Call it a country in crisis. Call it borderline ethnic cleansing. Call it what you will, but one thing is for sure: With headlines like these, Kenya is not an easy sell as a vacation destination right now.

That is exactly why I'm sitting at London's Heathrow Airport, waiting for my connecting flight on Kenya Airways to the country's capital, Nairobi. I want to understand just where Kenya stands in the aftermath of the political turmoil that erupted following the disputed presidential elections on Dec. 27 -- and how much, if at all, that turmoil has affected the tourism industry.

Depending on which news report you believe, the ensuing conflict, which has cost the lives of thousands and displaced more than 250,000 from their homes, falls along either political party lines or deep-seated tribal divisions.

While Kenyan officials and the people of Kenya are desperately trying to restore order, the crisis in the East African nation, known for its lush landscapes, impressive roster of exotic wildlife and colorful tribal culture, has inevitably dragged down with it Kenya's once-profitable tourism industry.

kenyadispatch021308And while U.S.-based tour operators present a united front of optimism and confidence in light of the ongoing conflict, echoing one after the other that they've had few if any cancellations, I remain unconvinced that so few American travelers are concerned about traveling to a dangerous land. I commend them if they are so fearlessly undeterred. Hey, for the next week-and-a-half, I am going to be one of them.

But let me take a moment to look at the events leading up to this trip. When I told friends and family of my plan to go to Kenya, 100% expressed some degree of concern, with every single e-mail and message about my trip ending with "Be safe."

Every steadily quieting conflict needs those first few eager tourists to help pave the road to recovery. It's a Catch-22. Without them, Kenya will suffer more and fall deeper into economic catastrophe. But getting them to come will not be easy, at least not for a while.

Either way, here goes.

To contact reporter Michelle Baran, send e-mail to [email protected].


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