The End of the Game; Lawlessness Poses an Awful Danger to Kenya's Tourism and to Its Entire Economy

By Winbury, Rex | Management Today, November 1989 | Go to article overview
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The End of the Game; Lawlessness Poses an Awful Danger to Kenya's Tourism and to Its Entire Economy

Winbury, Rex, Management Today


Shooting tourists is bad for business. A tasteless remark, perhaps, but cruelly true for Kenya. The East African republic set its sights - and Treasury budgets - on the magic million tourists in 1990, only to see widespread cancellations following the deaths of nearly 20 tourists, over the last year or so, killed in ambushes by armed poachers or in crashes of locally operated light aircraft.

The wide publicity given to the murders of conservationist and lion-tamer George Adamson (in Kora game reserve) and Suffolk hotelier's daughter Julie Ward (in the Masai Mara game park) has compounded the embarrassment of a tourist industry into which large corporations, such as Lonrho, UTC and the Aga Khan's Tourism Promotion Services, not to mention the President of Kenya himself, have been investing considerable resources over the past three years.

Lonrho now has a string of famous hotel names on its list, including the Norfolk, Nairobi's original safari HQ for royalty and nobs; the Mount Kenya Safari Club, first dreamt up by US actor William Holden; and the Aberdare Country Club with its twin game-viewing lodge, the Ark, built like Noah's boat and wedged (like Noah's on Ararat) 7,000 feet above sea level in the misty Aberdare Mountains. The Aga Khan has been extending and modernising his Serena Hotels (about time too, in the case of the cramped Nairobi property), and is looking at an upscale you-can-only-phone-me-by-satellite hotel in neighbouring Zanzibar. Meanwhile UTC has bought out the Block family's once extensive hotel management interests.

But President Daniel arap Moi's decision to invest some of his not inconsiderable personal resources in hotels was probably the most significant indicator of Kenya's hopes for tourism. It was also seen as the best hope for the rhino and elephant, victims of terrible and indiscriminate slaughter over the past 10 years, ever since automatic weapons became freely available to poachers as a result of the civil wars now endemic in four out of five of Kenya's neighbours - Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. These endangered species will now enjoy top-level political patronage, maybe in the nick of time.

Many local safari guides forecast that tourism based on the game parks will be finished within five years. This is partly because of the killing of animals (not just rhino and elephant); partly because of the shooting of tourists visiting the parks; partly because of over-use of the parks, with tourist buses carelessly chasing over the grasslands in the hunt for good close-up photographs, and so ruining the main feedstock of the animals. The Amboseli reserve, under Kilimanjaro, is a particularly bad case.

Partly, too, it is because of land pressures caused by the enormous population explosion, which is taking Kenya (once a country of 200,000 people) past 20 million now, and inexorably (according to government statisticians) past 40 million within 20 years. Actually, nobody knows exactly how many Kenyans there are: an attempt at a national census in August/September was said by the President to have been a total failure. But the growing slums of Nairobi - a bustling but run-down, dirty place - are testimony to the swelling numbers.

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The End of the Game; Lawlessness Poses an Awful Danger to Kenya's Tourism and to Its Entire Economy


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