Tourism players are sharply divided whether the state should impose travel restrictions, curfews, and mandatory testing in the light of a surge of Covid-19 infections in Kenya and Europe.
The rising rate of infections in Kenya and Europe, according to tourism players, will affect the recovery process that was expected to gain momentum in the third quarter of this year.
“A spike in cases locally will hit the domestic market. There is a drop-in inquiry for rooms from international guests that had picked after the state opened the sky,” said Dr. Sam Ikwaye.
Ikwaye said bed occupancy shot up to 30 per cent after the state lifted travel restrictions for domestics tourists and opened the sky for international flights. It has dropped to 15 per cent.
“The slight rebound was because of tourists who postponed their April holidays,” said Ikwaye Executive Officer of the Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association Coast branch.
Reports indicate that countries across Europe, one of Kenya’s main tourist source markets, are seeing a resurgence in Covid-19 cases after a slowdown.
In Kenya, the number of cases has also shot up since the state relaxed travel restriction and opened up entertainment joints across the country.
Multiple interviews reveal industry players scrambling for survival with most hoteliers saying only 25 per cent of the workforce has been recalled back to work. Some hotels remain closed.
On August 3, the Kenya Airport Authority (KAA) opened the sky for international flights. Figures from KAA reveal that fleets from 20 airlines have landed in the country since then.
In September, Kenya was ranked among nine countries open for business and tourism by Forbes Magazine citing fairly Covid-19 trends. This is after cases of infections continued to drop despite the August 1 opening of the skies for international flights.
On Thursday KAA officials said international flights from 91 destinations across the globe have made 251 trips into the country since the restrictions were lifted in August.
The spike in the cases of infection in Kenya and Europe, one of Kenya’s source markets, has sparked jitters and worry that the sector will recover in the December peak season.
A debate whether the state should re-introduce the health protocols like lockdowns, banning international flights and cessations are bound among the players in the sector.
“We must bite the bullet and impose mandatory quarantine for all guests from Europe,” said Mr. Robert Kiiri, a Mombasa hotelier.
Mr. Kiiri, a General Manager of Sai Rock Hotel, said Kenya must create and gain the confidence of global travel agents by showing that it takes the safety of tourists seriously than profits.
“No need to lock down the country or impose mandatory quarantine for guests again because hoteliers can now protect the guests. We now know more about Covid-19,” said Ikwaye.
He said the government and hoteliers have enough knowledge or information about the virus and its effects can be mitigated while other economic activities go uninterrupted.
Ikwaye said currently the sector is dependent on local tourists especially county national government agencies who are conducting conferences in Mombasa hotels.
“Hoteliers have invested in testing kits, set aside areas to quarantine guests with symptoms, and created spaces as required,” said Ikwaye who said the recovery of the sector will be in mid-2021.
Kiiri said there was fatigue among Kenyans to follow the health protocols and that the national and county governments should step in to enforce the regulations.
“It is true things are tough, but we cannot allow a free-ride. We must ban flights from European countries where cases are on the rise,” said Kiiri in an interview.
Mr. Isaac Rodrot, an hotelier in Watamu, Kilifi County said Covid-19 presents an opportunity for the government and the players to re-invest in the industry for future takeoff.
“I will be naïve to project that the industry will recover this year or even next year. We should use the opportunity to do an overhaul and position ourselves better,” said Rodrot.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has warned that a new rate of infection could burgeon into the second wave of Covid-19 in the country amid concerns of its effects on the economy.
The CS said the state will not hesitate to impose lockdowns, curfews, and obligatory testing if Kenyans fail to follow the health guideline and the numbers keep rising.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, according to the KAA figures, 36 international flights from 91 destinations across the world used to fly into the country.