Tourists shrug off possible poll violence for wildebeest migration

Tourists to Kenya are shrugging
off fears of potential violence during elections in August,
pouring into the country in droves for a chance of
seeing the annual wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara.

Tour operators and hoteliers are reporting near full
capacity, in large part because of safari-lovers hoping to see
the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest that run the gauntlet of
hungry crocodiles as they cross the Mara river in search of
greener pastures on the Kenya-Tanzania border.

Elections, often a fraught and tense occasions in Kenya,
are being held on August 8.

But the chance of seeing the wildebeest in their splendour
has pushed concerns about a repetition of post-election violence
in 2008, when 1,200 people were killed, to the back of most
tourists’ minds.

“We are having a near full capacity in terms of business
through the months of July and August,” said Kenya Tourism Board
communications manager Wausi Walya.

Mahmud Janmohamed, chief executive of TPS Eastern Africa
, which operates a safari lodge with views of the
migration route, said bookings for this month were similar to
last year and slightly up in August.

“We haven’t witnessed any cancellations or any challenges,”
he said, saying nervousness over the poll was being balanced by
expectations that any electoral disputes could be resolved in
court, not in the streets.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose rejection of the
outcome of the 2007 poll sparked serious ethnic clashes, also
challenged the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 but
accepted the court’s decision to uphold the result.

The pair are facing off again this year and though they have
been criss-crossing the country in robust and colourful
campaigns, their supporters have generally remained calm, with
only isolated incidents of unrest reported.

“So far we have carried ourselves in a respectable and
civilised manner,” said Mohamed Hersi, chairman of the Kenya
Tourism Federation (KTF), an umbrella association of hoteliers,
tour operators and airlines.

Federation members were reporting healthy bookings, with
inland safaris faring particularly well.

“I would comfortably say we are 20-25 per cent higher than
last year,” said Hersi, who has operated top hotels at the coast
for more than two decades.

However, tour operators are not being complacent.

“If we start hitting the news headlines for the wrong
reasons, then they will cancel. But so far, they don’t care if
you hold elections or whether you don’t,” Hersi said.

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