By Ndune Mwaringa
I remember the days when all you required to have a serene travel experience was your money, a destination and audacity; then, we faced a pervasive Pandemic that brought us to a virtual standstill.
We have been thrown into a state where we had to suppress most of our conventional ventures in a bid to recover and protect our very skin.
One year, and three months have now passed since the virus’ first case was reported in the country but even with the diligence of governments to destabilize the ecosystem, consequential effects and differences can still be felt. The Tours and Travel sector is yet one of the sectors that has been most affected.
The novel Coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization on the twelfth of January last year from an unconfirmed breakout in Wuhan. On the announcement of its presence in Kenya in March 2020, President Kenyatta announced a lockdown on flights between our country and those that had reported the presence of the virus.
Domestic Tourism has been one of the most hit sections under the Tourism industry in Kenya. It is the main driving force of the Travel and Tourism sector in major economies globally accounting for more than seventy percent in 2018.
Domestic tourists, who according to statistics accounted for more than half the total bed occupancy in the country, were forced to abandon their travel plans to avoid contracting the virus. A massive drop in sales ensued and with the forceful closure of many hotels. The visible drop in sales was not the only aftermath as many employees went home, many with unpaid salaries due to the unforeseen tragedy; with worse having to put down their tools as employers could no longer sustain all of them and sent most home.
Within the next month, a necessary cessation of movement across the country had been placed.
The pandemic, basically caused by global travel, forced the government to place all out strict measures in an endeavor to contain the virus.
Travelers universally had to cross-check with the World Health Organization’s compliance regulations first, before even considering moving from one place to another.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the agency entrusted with the sustenance and promotion of tourism, embraced the slogan ‘Stay Home Now, Travel Tomorrow’ to refrain everyone from physical movement where necessary.
International tourism took a heat
Extensive international travel, hospitality and tourism is one of the indicators of a healthy modern economy as well as a social system. Kenya’s economy is notably reliant on the tourism industry, with International tourism contributing a total of Ksh163 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product according to Tourism statistics in 2019.
An appraisal with consideration to the pandemic was set in 2020 for over Ksh147 billion in direct international tourists’ receipts. The reality of this epidemic dawned when only a quarter of the projected amount was realized.
The sector had lost over Ksh110 billion of direct international tourists’ revenue due to the virus.
According to UNWTO estimates, the pandemic’s impact on the travel and tourism sector became clearer after comparison and the results showed that international tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2020 had been reduced to a mere fraction of what they were in the previous year.
There was a slight laxity when the ban on movement was lifted by the President in August and the travel industry could feel a shimmer of hope.
This was short-lived as a backlash due to the cessation was felt when the transport prices across the various modes of transport soared.
The hike in fares was primarily caused by the social distance coronavirus regulations that were placed by the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, and compelled a reduction in the total number of passengers. Workers in the transport sector wanted to compensate for the slice in the total number but this move was soon deterred by the government.
Progressively but surely, we have witnessed a slow and steady recovery of the country back to its feet beginning with the most vital of sectors.
The Tours and Travel sector has been one of the sectors that have been a product of tactical planning and execution by the government.
Coronavirus still remains a public health crisis and its blow to the global economy is still being felt. The recovery is a gradual one but recent talks have been held to mitigate it. An allocation of funds to support community conservancies and engage community scouts is part of the campaign launched to cushion tourist destinations that have faced economic hostility.
The tourism finance board is currently running a program to provide soft loans to hotels and related establishments in an effort to fulfill the latest international trend by UNWTO dubbed Restart Tourism.
These incentives, which are being spearheaded by the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala, are banked to improve this state. With cooperation from the people and with ongoing medical advances such as the development of vaccines, the directives are primed to stabilize the tourism sector and ensure it rebounds.