Tourism is about image and perception. A slight dent to either one has potential for devastating ramifications on tourism sectors particularly in non-western countries that depend on foreign tourists to support local tourism.
Some may remember the Italian-born author by her memoir, I Dreamed of Africa which inspired a movie by the same name acting Kim Basinger in 2000.
The ambush and shooting of world-renowned author turned conservationist, Kuki Gallmann, on Sunday at her private ranch by local militia is once again bringing to the forefront issues of safety and security in Africa. It also shines the spotlight into the fragile tourism industry that is increasingly facing stiff competition from other regions as well as threats from terrorism and conflicts.
The targeted attack on Kuki Gallmann ‘s 1000,000-acre ranch in norther Kenya is neither isolated nor the first one. Last month an arson attack left Ms. Gallmann’s Mukutan Retreat in ruins after they attacked the Conservation.
In 2009, after targeting and invading her property, Ms. Kuki Gallmann was viciously assaulted and left hospitalized.
Another Safari Operator, British military veteran Tristan Voorspuy wasn’t that lucky. Last month, he was shot and killed when he went to inspect the remains of a friend’s property that had been burnt down. Local militias and cattle-herders are accused of perpetrating the violent heinous acts and escalating conflicts targeting private ranchers and farmers in the area.
While there may be many dynamics contributing to these incidents, it nonetheless doesn’t make the job any easier for everyone in the industry both within and outside Africa working hard to promote the continent and its image. Acts of violence erode the faith that people have, not just on Africa but the idea of vacationing abroad in this age of terrorism and conflicts.
Most importantly, any act of violence, whether it’s in Kenya, South Africa or even Zimbabwe, is counter-productive to those individuals working hard to present a different image of Africa and African tourism to the outside world. Kenya should take a leaf from Zimbabwe. The country learnt a hard lesson and paid a huge price, ramifications of which are still being felt to this day.
Let us hope Kenya doesn’t learn the hard way that tourism can dry up as quickly as it started. Afterall, tourism is a delicate product that is about selling image and perception. Maintaining both should be of fundamental importance particularly in countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya, the three leading countries in African safaris where the balance between tourism and the political tinderbox can sometimes be delicate. Finding the balance between the two is key!
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