6 March 2008Nature tourism in Kenya, which plummeted some 90 per cent during the recent post-election violence, can play a key role in restoring the east African country’s stability, economy and biodiversity, the United Nations environment chief said today. Nature tourism in Kenya, which plummeted some 90 per cent during the recent post-election violence, can play a key role in restoring the east African country’s stability, economy and biodiversity, the United Nations environment chief said today. “Tourism, based in the main around Kenya’s fabled wildlife and natural landscapes, has historically been a centre-piece of the economy and for job creation,” Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), said on his departure to Berlin, Germany, which this week is hosting one of the world’s biggest tourism fairs.Visitor numbers crashed since the post-election instability of late December 2007, causing lay-offs of 25,000 people directly employed in tourism-related industries and countless more indirectly associated, Mr. Steiner noted. At the same time, revenues to parks and reserves have also been gutted, putting at risk countless conservation initiatives carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Service and others, he added.However, with the newly signed peace agreement brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his team, tourism can play a central role restoring stability, the UNEP head maintained. “In doing so, it can also play an important role in conserving important wildlife and ecosystems – from charismatic creatures like elephants and rhino to whale sharks and some of the most dense and diverse birdlife on the planet,” he said.According to official statistics to be presented in Berlin this week by the Kenya delegation, 2007 saw a record number of over a million international tourists arrive in the country by air and by sea – a rise of 10 per cent over 2006.But since the disputed election result in December 2007, numbers have fallen precipitously and it is forecast that an average of 9,000 visitors will come each month over the first quarter of 2008.