"The images we've seen on television have been totally frightening. You'd be reluctant to say, 'Ah, that's a good place to go on a holiday,'" said Martin Dunford, chief executive chairman of the Tamarind Group, which runs the popular Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi.
The impact of the conflict was instantaneous. Britain slapped a travel warning on Kenya that prevented most tourists from obtaining the insurance required to travel here—at the peak of the busy winter season. The robust economy was suddenly bleeding an estimated $80 million each day. By early February, 120,000 tourism-related jobs had been lost. Visitors were going elsewhere in Africa, or not going at all. Ethiopian Airlines reported 60 percent fewer travelers in January, and South African Airways scrapped its daily flight between Johannesburg and Nairobi. Charter flights to Mombasa were cut from 26 to just two. Domestic tourism by Kenyan citizens, which had accounted for 30 percent of the market, fell off to almost nothing.
The reaction among most Kenyans was anger, mixed with sadness and confusion over how this could have happened in their country. While the hardscrabble reality of life here has never matched the romantic myth of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, Kenya was still considered one of the continent's safest and most rewarding destinations, where a visitor could swim in the Indian Ocean one day and watch lions take down an impala the next.
"If you want to go on holiday in the middle of winter, you want to sit on the beach in Kenya," said Lucy McKinley, a 28-year-old London law student who booked a last-minute December trip, much of which she wound up spending poolside at her downtown Nairobi hotel, under instructions not to venture out into the city. "It's shocking because it's Kenya, and you don't think of Kenya as a place where this happens."