Is gay sex in Kenya impacting tourism?

2019-05-25 08:37
iStock

iStock

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

"Will 'Magical Kenya' spend money specifically to position [itself as a] destination for this particular segment of people?," Mohamed Hersi, Kenya Tourism Federation chairperson, asks rhetorically, as he speaks about the possible impact of a court ruling that could decriminalise gay sex in Kenya.

"We'll not go out and advertise this as a tourism segment in Kenya," he tells Al Jazeera, adding that if LGBT people are "given the freedom, let them enjoy it but let them enjoy it quietly".

That quiet enjoyment could boost the East African country's gross domestic product. Discrimination against gays and lesbians costs Kenya's economy 130bn Kenyan shillings ($1.3bn) per year, or 1.7% of Kenya's annual gross domestic product, according to a report released this year by Open For Business, a coalition of global companies promoting lesbian gay bisexual & transgender (LGBT) inclusive societies.

In Kenya, gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. This month Kenya's High Court will decide whether to abolish sections 162 and 165 of the Kenyan penal code, which criminalises homosexual behaviour. The possible ruling has drawn so much attention, it has come to be known simply as the "Repeal162" case. On February 22, 2019, the high court postponed its decision on the matter until May 24.

Business leaders are watching

"The guests from this segment to our hotels isn't that significant to speak of," Hasnain Noorani, the Group managing director of Pride Group, tells Al Jazeera. His company owns eight resorts in Kenya and is considering further investment in the travel industry, including in prime national parks, within the next five years.

"Maybe if it (homosexuality) was legalized it will open up the destination to the LGBT community abroad," says Noorani at the PrideInn Paradise Beach Hotel & Spa, one of the latest additions to the array of hotels beckoning foreign tourists. The hotel has 300 rooms and a convention centre that can accommodate 2 500 people.

When his company acquired the resort, in 2013, tourism in Mombasa was on its knees and many hoteliers were looking to leave the coastal city. The Kenyan tourism industry had been hit hard by advisories warning travelers about crime and kidnapping. Those warnings were issued by the US and Europe, which are not only generally friendly to LGBTQ people but also account for large portions of Kenya’s foreign tourists.

As interest by foreign tourists increases, the hospitality sector is picking up, which is a win for business owners like Noorani. More than two million tourists visited Kenya in 2018, a 37% increase over 2017 figures.

The number of tourists and their impact on the broader Kenyan economy could be even higher if gay sex was decriminalised, according to Yvonne Muthoni, program director at Open for Business-Kenya.

"We know from experience in Kenya how big of a multiplier effect - through supporting local businesses, providing employment, especially in the agriculture and service industries - a single tourist has on the sector," Muthoni told Al Jazeera.

On its website, OUT Adventures, a company which organizes holidays for LGBT tourists, cautions its clients, "Due to Kenya's deeply ingrained homophobia, we recommend gay travelers practice complete discretion. It should be noted even heterosexual (public displays of affection) are frowned upon in this conservative nation." 

But it goes on to say: "Although homosexual acts are technically illegal, there is currently no major push by local authorities or governments to enforce these laws."

For his part, Kenya’s Tourism Federation chairman admits LGBT tourists have likely visited his country and contributed to its growth.

"People of the same sex may come in quietly all the time and they look to you like any other ordinary group holidaying together… but the moment they start doing things openly in our faces is when we might need to draw a line. We do not want to upset others who do not subscribe to the same behaviour," said Hersi.

He says what couples do behind the closed doors of Kenya's hotels hasn't ever been, and shouldn't be, the business of the industry. But, he adds, if Kenya's High Court decides to decriminalise gay sex, LGBT tourists should not expect a sudden change in cultural attitude toward homosexuality.

"What we would say is … 'fine, the law has accepted you,' but don't force it on us to recognize this as normal because we also need our own personal space."

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    kenya  |  lgbti rights  |  tourism  |  eat africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.