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Mombasa in shock at tourist evacuations

16 May 2014, 19:25

Mombasa - Hundreds of British tourists are being evacuated from beach resorts near Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa following new warnings of terror attacks, officials and tour operators said Friday.

Special charter flights were organised days after Britain, France, Australia and the United States issued new travel warnings for Kenya's coast following a wave of attacks and unrest linked to Islamist extremists.

British travellers have been told by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to avoid "all but essential" visits to Mombasa, impacting links to nearby white-sand beach resorts.

The Kenyan government has expressed "disappointment" and has accused countries that are telling tourists to stay away of "unfriendly acts".

Thomson and First Choice, which are owned by London-listed TUI Travel, Europe's biggest tour operator, said they had also decided to cancel all flights to the coastal city -- were four people were killed in twin bomb attacks earlier this month -- until November.

"As a result of the change in FCO advice, the decision has been taken to cancel all our outbound flights to Mombasa, Kenya up to and including 31 October," Thomson and First Choice said in a statement.

"As a precautionary measure, we have also taken the decision to repatriate all customers currently on holiday in Kenya back to the UK."

A spokeswoman told AFP that Thomson and First Choice had around 400 customers currently on holiday in the Mombasa area. "Some arrived home on a flight home this morning, some will arrive on a flight this evening, and the rest on Monday," she said.

Adam Sheikh, a tourism official in Kwale county south of Mombasa which is home to a number of resorts along Diani beach, told AFP that 250 British tourists had already left and said the area was in "shock".

"We are shocked because we don't think there is such a level of insecurity," he said.

- 'Jobs will be lost' -

On Thursday Kenya's foreign ministry gave an angry response to the warnings.

"The advisories... are obviously unfriendly acts coming from our partners who have equally borne the brunt of global terrorism and no doubt understand the repercussions of terror," it said in a statement.

"Issuance of such travel advisories only plays to the whims of bad elements in society whose aim is to spread fear and panic," the statement added.

Sam Ikwaye of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, said the evacuations were a "huge blow".

According to the most recent figures from 2011, tourism directly or indirectly accounted for 14 percent of Kenya's economic output and roughly 12 percent of the workforce.

"We are surprised because there is no serious imminent danger to warrant this action. This will be a huge blow to the tourism sector. The high season was due to begin in July and many contracts are signed around this time," he said.

Ikwaye said beach hotels in region were now facing a drop in revenue of up to 70 percent, and that he feared that "the decision by the British is likely to influence other countries to do the same".

Mohammed Hersi, the head of the Heritage Hotel group, said "many jobs will be lost".

"We are very disappointed by the blanket statement from the British government. I regret that this decision will have long-term repercussions on Kenyan tourism," he said.

Last month Kenya confirmed that the number of foreign visitors to the country -- a top safari and beach destination -- slumped by 11 percent in 2013, when the country was gripped by fears of election-related political violence.

The current year is expected to also see a massive drop, particularly in the wake of the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that was claimed by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels and left at least 67 dead.

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