Insecurity alarms tour operators in Maasai Mara

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- The Kenya Association of Tour Operators has sounded an alarm over insecurity in the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, located in the expansive Rift Valley, warning that it was a powder keg waiting to explode.
Although no tourist had been attacked recently, incessant requests for an improvement in security had fallen on deaf ears, they said.
The Chairman of the Mombasa Coast branch of KATO Mike Kirkland said Monday that security structure at the park was haphazard with no clear chain of command.
Several appeals to the Kenya Wildlife Service, the body in charge of game parks and reserves in Kenya, had gone unheeded.
Maasai Mara game reserve gained notoriety in late 1980s when a British tourist, Julie Ward was found murdered there.
The high profile efforts by her hotelier father, John Ward, to bring the killers to book, has ensured that her story is continuously in the limelight.
Addressing a KATO annual general meeting last Friday, Kirkland, a renown former rally driver said his association had been asking the government to improve security in the facility.
"I hope that it does not take a bad incident at the Mara before they are forced to improve their security.
They may find it to be too late," Kirkland told PANA Monday.
Tourism is Kenya's major foreign exchange earner for Kenya.
Although it took a nosedive in 1997 following tribal clashes at the Coast, the industry has been picking up.
Government statistics show that some 900,000 tourists entered the country last year, earning the exchequer almost Ksh 2 billion (about 26 million US dollars).
Kirkland demanded that the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) be given additional funding.
"KTB should be funded by the government to a much higher amount than the ministry of tourism as the whole employment situation at the Coast depends on their efforts," he said.
Following the slump, 30 hotels have been closed leaving tourists with very limited options of where to stay while at the Indian Ocean coast.
Kirkland called for a review of the visa fees charged on visitors, saying it was keeping away potential tourists.
"When Hong Kong removed visa charges, their tourism arrivals increased to just over 12 million tourists a year, about 12 times Kenya's on that small island," he said.
KTB's head of marketing, Suzanne Butler, said their objective was to return Kenya to its lost glory as a leading tourist destination on the continent.
"We all know how far down Kenya tourism has sunk in the immediate past, and with that the damage it has done to the Kenyan economy particularly at the (Indian Ocean) Coast where tourism accounts for a substantial part of the economy," she said.

11 june 2001 14:18:00

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