By David Cogswell and Michael Milligan
NEW YORK -- When a terrorist bomb exploded near Mombasa, Kenya,
recently, Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris was in
the city along with some 500 people, mostly Europeans, about to
embark on several of his tours.
Another 700 guests already were on safari in the game parks, he
said. But none was in harm's way.
"One of the things we did was ensure there was a security
presence with all of our groups, and the government reacted very
well on that front," said Pinto, a native Kenyan who returned to
New York last week. "We didn't have a single person opt to come
Many travelers displayed a similar reaction, according to tour
operators and agents contacted by Travel Weekly.
At Big Five Tours, Sunit Sanghrajka, director of Africa
operations, said, "When I received the news I was shaking my head,
saying, 'Oh no, here we go again. Just when things were looking
good for 2003.'
"We were expecting heavy call volume from worried customers
canceling, but it's rather surprising. We had put together a
statement saying that if customers had any reservations about
Mombasa, we would re-route them. But we have not had to do that."
Maisa Fernandez, a market development representative of the
Kenya Tourist Board, said, "At this point we don't have any drastic
cancellations -- on average about a 10% cancellation rate. We
haven't seen people flocking out of Kenya.
"Of the people who are already traveling, most are staying."
On Nov. 28, suicide bombers detonated a car bomb outside the
Paradise Hotel, an Israeli-owned resort in Kikambala, about 25
miles north of Mombasa, killing 16 people.
Soon after, an attempt was made to shoot down an Israeli charter
flight with a handheld missile launcher as it departed Mombasa.
The incidents spurred the State Department to issue an alert
that urged U.S. citizens visiting Kenya, where terrorists bombed
the U.S. embassy in 1998, to "remain vigilant, particularly in
public places frequented by foreigners, such as hotels and shopping
But George Morgan-Grenville, president of Abercrombie &
Kent, which had "minimal" cancellations, said the events in Mombasa
have little to do with safari country.
He said, "It's highly unlikely such a thing could happen in the
Maggie Maranga, African Travel's regional sales manager for the
northeast U.S., agreed, noting that "most Americans don't go to
"That kind of hotel is a very local kind of hotel, not one of
the hotels we would have featured," she said. "It's so unlikely
that an American would be there. At the kind of high-end hotels we
use, that car wouldn't get through the gates."
"If things are calm [for] a couple of months, I think it will be
fine," said a spokeswoman from Tauck World Discovery, which had no
"People understand that it is not the natives targeting
tourists," said Albert Anson, vice president of agent sales for
Park East Tours.
Agents report mixed results. Some who had clients booked for the
near future have seen a few cancellations.
Allen Mitchem, general manager of 5th Avenue Travel Center in
Hendersonville, N.C., had a group booked for January and "every
Some shifted their bookings to southern Africa, where they could
fly nonstop from Atlanta. Mitchem said he thinks the incident
brought to mind the embassy bombing of a few years ago.
"You can overcome a lot of doubts and questions," said Mitchem,
"but overcoming fear is almost impossible. Hand- held missiles,
that's pretty scary."
Some agents remain optimistic.
"The [Kenyan] people are very friendly and receptive. The
infrastructure for tourism is excellent," said Carol Gussinger,
owner and manager of Linger Travel in Grand Rapids, Mich., who
recently returned from a 10-day, Kenya familiarization safari
sponsored by Park East.
She expects to send a group to Kenya, possibly in June.
Robin Kalahorz, manager of Las Vegas-based Pretravel
International in Las Vegas, was on the same fam trip with
Kalahorz said she would not hesitate to sell Kenya.