The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), taking place at the InterContinental in Nairobi, Kenya, this week (23-25 September) has continued as planned, despite the terrorist incident at the Westgate Shopping Centre over the weekend.
Bench Events’ Chairman, Jonathan Worsley, said support from the hotel industry for Kenya has been admirable and there was only a 4% rate of delegate dropouts, demonstrating the industry’s “resilience and commitment to Africa and Kenya specifically”.
“The Westgate incident is horrific and our hearts go out to all the victims and their families, who have suffered the most shocking blow,” he said.
“The goal of terrorists is to spread fear and disrupt lives and we know that if we change our plans adversely, they win. Therefore, we will be proceeding with AHIF as planned, all be it with heightened security throughout the conference.”
The Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Phyllis Kandie, who officially opened AHIF as planned on Tuesday morning (Sep 24), thanked attendees for their support.
“We extend a hand of welcome to all those arriving for the Africa Hotel Investment Forum and wish to assure visitors that Kenya is peaceful and our security agencies are everything possible to ensure everyone is safe,” Kandie said.
Most keynote speakers still attended AHIF, including World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) President and CEO, David Scowsill.
“I commend the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) for their decision to continue as planned and I am heartened by the great attendance at this conference,” he told the audience at the InterContinental Nairobi.
“I am happy to have this opportunity, along with all of you, to show travel and tourism’s support for Kenya… this is not ‘business as usual’ without respect for the tragedy and loss, but a recognition that business must go on.
“There is already speculation that this attack will affect tourism to Kenya. My message to you today is that it cannot.
“We cannot allow events such as these to stop the business of travel and tourism. It is a business which creates jobs, drives GDP growth and stimulates investment.
“Travel and tourism is a weapon in the war against terror. And it is a powerful weapon, because above all, our industry is resilient.
“It is crucial in these situations that a country remains open to tourism. The message has to be clear – tourists are welcome and safe in the destination, and they will have the positive experience they desire.
“And the KTDC has made a fantastically positive statement in this respect. These messages need to be echoed across government ministries in the coming weeks and months, with each playing its role to ensure the world knows that Kenya is open for business and visitors are welcome, and to ensure that this is reflected in the reality of their experience.
“I urge all my fellow delegates here at the African Hotel Investment Forum, and all those tourists who are currently in this beautiful country, to support Kenyans by telling the world that they are here and that they are having a good and safe time.
“As Kenya emerges from this tragedy the message we should be hearing is not one of a dangerous country beset by terrorism, but one where the people pull together to fight back against those who want to harm them.
“We must share the stories of mutual support – people queuing up to donate blood, delivering food to security forces at the scene – which reflect a nation which is proud, welcoming and hospitable.
“I for one am delighted to be here,” he said.
According to WTTC, travel and tourism is one of Kenya’s largest industries, responsible for 12.5% of GDP and 11% of total employment (600,000 jobs).