Kenyan tourism could take six months to recover from a violent political crisis that has led to cancelled bookings, even if a quick solution is found, an industry official said on Friday.
The sector was hit by the "Likoni" land clashes in the coastal resort of Mombasa in 1997, then a bombing in the capital Nairobi a year later blamed on al Qaeda, and another blast at a hotel on the coast in 2002.
Now it has been convulsed by days of riots and ethnic clashes that have killed more than 300 people since President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election.
"We've been building the industry since it collapsed after the Likoni clashes, and now we have precisely the same scenario with clashes causing the collapse of tourism," said Jake Grieves-Cook, chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board.
"If we can have a solution within the next week, then we should be able to get back a lot of the bookings we have lost by July onwards."
Tourism is Kenya's top source of hard currency, earning the country an estimated 60 billion shillings ($944.1 million) in 2007 compared with 56.2 billion the year before.
But it has been hit by a wave of cancellations because of the turmoil, with many European tour companies stopping sending clients to its safari parks and palm-fringed beaches.
Some British operators have said they will consider early repatriation for holidaymakers already in Kenya -- even though the violence has so far spared the main vacation resorts.
Many Western countries have issued a travel advisory on Kenya warning nationals to avoid all but essential travel there.
"All the biggest suppliers of tourists around the world have now put out travel warnings," Grieves-Cook told Reuters.
The east African country is at the peak of its high season for visitors, which would normally run until the end of March.
"We have had charters cancelled ... and we're looking at no tourist arriving from those countries that have put out travel warnings until they are lifted. This is going to have a severe impact on tourism," he said.
"There must be a solution found before the economy is caused huge damage and more Kenyans lose their lives ... The quicker the solution is found, the quicker the industry will recover." (Reuters)
Kenya tourism industry unravels as unrest mounts