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Last week, attacks by Islamist militants in northeast Kenya left scores of civilians dead. The terrorist group al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the atrocities, and added that “Kenya is now officially a war zone… tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril.” The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has disputed the involvement of al-Shabaab.
So how dangerous is Kenya for travellers?
It depends which part of Kenya. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all non-essential travel to areas near the Somali border, as well as to parts of Mombasa and Nairobi. Both of last week’s attacks were close to its exclusion zone along the Somali border (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kenya).
Last month, Tui, which owns Thomson and First Choice, repatriated all its holidaymakers on the Kenyan coast. Another operator, Kuoni, noted that although Mombasa airport and the popular resorts of Malindi and Diani Beach were not included in the warning, “the main road to access these resorts goes through the restricted area”. Both Tui and Kuoni have suspended their programmes on the coast.
What about game reserves?
The new FCO warnings do not cover central Nairobi, its airport or the famous national parks and conservancies inland, and tour operators are still running holidays there. “The national parks are safe,” says Stefano Cheli, of the safari specialist Cheli & Peacock (chelipeacock.com), who has lived in the country for 51 years. “Most game parks are a long way from the trouble spots.” He also points out that security in the parks is well developed, to combat the threat of poaching.
What if I’ve already paid for a holiday and want to cancel?
Even if you’re not holidaying in one of the danger areas, your tour operator may be able to help. For example, the tailor-made specialist Bailey Robinson has recently changed several clients’ itineraries — swapping the Kenyan coast for Zanzibar or avoiding Africa altogether — without cancellation charges. Kuoni also says it will try to help travellers change their safari plans. In both cases, however, last-minute changes could be costly. Kuoni’s terms and conditions state “it will not be possible to make changes within 30 days of your scheduled departure date”; and in this case, if you decide not to go, you’ll forfeit 90%-100% of the price. If the FCO does issue advice against travel to your destination, tour operators will generally offer a refund or the chance to change your itinerary.
If I decide to cancel, will my travel insurance reimburse my costs?
In the absence of new FCO advice, probably not. If new advice is issued, it may — but check the policy closely, because some insurers won’t cover cancellation costs if the FCO advises against travel because of civil unrest or terrorism. Nor will they cover claims, except for personal accident and emergency medical services, arising from terrorist action.
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