Tourists stream to Mara ahead of big migration despite travel ban


Tourists have started streaming into the Maasai Mara game reserve to witness the annual wildebeest migration.

Close to 100 American tourists checked in at the Sarova Hotel this week although the migration of thousands of wildebeests from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya is expected at the end of the month.

Last month, the US was among countries that issued travel advisories warning their citizens against travelling to some parts of the country, particularly Nairobi and Mombasa due to fears of grenade attacks. The others were France, Australia and Britain.

Nakuru Governor Kinuthia Mbugua Sunday met British tourists and thanked them for visiting the country despite the advisory which led some UK tour firms to evacuate 500 of their patrons from Coast hotels last month.

“If we hide ourselves in our homes and stop going about our businesses, then we will have allowed terrorists to intimidate us because their aim is to destabilise our economies,” he said in Nakuru town.

In the Maasai Mara, Mr Elias Kagwina, the coordinator of Mission Tour and Travel said more tourists would be coming over for the peak season.

The Sarova Mara Game Camp manager, Mr Antony Kashero, said hotels have been experiencing difficult times during the low season which was compounded by the travel advisories due to grenade attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi.

Global problem

“Despite it being low season, we feel the effect the advisory had on the sector and we hope this would not be the case when we usher in the peak season,” he said.

Mr Joshua Stokrocki, from New Jersey, and his relative Kyle Miller from North Carolina, said terrorism was a global problem and that tourists were likely to ignore the travel advisory by their governments.

“I am sure not everywhere in Kenya is dangerous,” said Mr Stokrocki. Although most of the hotels in the game reserve are operating below 50 per cent bed occupancy, the steady arrival of tourists was a positive sign, said Mr Kashero.

Last year, majority of tourists who visited the Mara during the peak season were from China, the first time Asian visitors had outnumbered their European counterparts.

The Narok County executive in charge of Tourism, Mr Allan Twala, said over 40,000 Chinese tourists visited the Mara in 2011, an increase of about 10 per cent from the previous year. This he said, was more than arrivals from traditional markets in Europe and America.

According to the Kenya Tourism Board, the number of Chinese visitors to Kenya increased by four per cent in the 2013-2014 period, making the Asian country one of the top 10 tourist source markets. KTB has predicted that this figure will rise to 100,000 this year.

Speaking during a tour of the Maasai Mara recently, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie said Kenya was targeting three million tourists by next year.

In Nakuru town, Mr Mbugua Sunday told tourists from Derby, England, that terrorism had no boundaries. “We should not change the way we operate and give terrorists the satisfaction that they have conquered the world. We should instead make them feel that they have no effect,” he said.

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