Coast beaches empty as Mara grinds to a halt

Thursday, March 19th, 2020 00:00 |

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Harrison Kivisu and Peter Leshan

The number of visitors touring the Coast and Masai Mara, Kenya’s top beach and Safari tourist hubs, respectively, continues to  slump as the multi-billion-shilling tourism industry reels from the impact of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation has been worsened by cancellation of local hotel bookings and the declaration of beaches as out of bounds to holidaymakers.

Conferences have also been cancelled as the government tightens the noose on the spread of the deadly virus.

Domestic tourists—mainly from upcountry—have opted to stay away, while international guests have been stopped from travelling into the country after the government banned inbound guests from countries hit by the pandemic.

A spot-check by TravelWise has established that all beach operators including curio sellers and beach boys have now closed shop.

Enforcement officers from the Mombasa county government have been patrolling the shores to keep off beachcombers. 

“We used to sell curios to tourists along the beach, now we can’t access it because the Mombasa Inspectorate department has warned against going to the beach, yet this is our main livelihood,” cried Kimanthi Mutua, a trader.

The government on, March 4, suspended direct flights from northern Italy, over the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Italian market that commands about 80 per cent of tourism in Northern parts of the Coast is now on a downward trajectory.  

Players are now caught up in a wait-and-see situation after conferences in hotels and public gatherings, which raked in a significant fraction of sectors’ revenue, were also cancelled.

Since last week, holiday homes and resorts have been sending home some of their staff in batches.

Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) North Coast Chairperson Maureen Awuor, who is also the Ocean Beach Resort general manager, says hoteliers in Malindi are the worst hit.

“Everything is at standstill; business has come to a halt. We have no other options left than giving out letters to our staff to stay away until the situation is resolved,” said Awuor.

Ocean Beach Resort, which is located at the heart of Malindi town, has begun scaling down its staff after the government cancelled key conferences.

Four separate meetings of government delegations booked at the hotel were cancelled this week alone. 

“Occupancy is less than 10 per cent, because there is no travelling, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (Mice) tourism is affected, we are now depending on business guests only,” said Awuor.

The players are now calling on the government to heighten measures at entry points such as airports to ensure the pandemic does not spread to Kenya.

Health checks 

The outbreak has not only affected the number of arriving guests through the coast airports, but also posed a great risk for Mombasa as a tourism destination.

In Mombasa, arriving guests and staff at tourist resorts are subjected to numerous measures to assure everyone of their safety.

“Hospitality is a high-risk sector, since we are on the absolute front line of meeting and greeting visitors from all over the world,” said PrideInn Managing Director Hasnain Noorani. 

He said that the hotel has ensured that staff and guests are safe during their stay. “The safety and health of our guests, employees and anyone in our hotels is of paramount importance to us.

We are doing everything that we can to ensure that our guests have a safe and pleasant stay as it has always been the case,” said Hasnain.

Noorani said the hotel group is working with the respective county governments and the ministry of health, on handling any coronavirus case.

The hotel chain is also carrying out temperature checks for staff, vendors as well as guests using non-invasive thermometers across its hotels.

“Our staff has been trained and briefed on the corona virus symptoms and is encouraged to report any person suspected to management for quick action.

In terms of measures taken, we have gone ahead to acquire thermo guns for screening by the clinical officers at the hotel and we have doctors on call with the option of ambulance services at every hotel,” added Noorani 

Hotels close 

Hotels and resorts accommodation sector are focusing on health and safety. “Additional measures include provision of special  hand sanitisers at every corner of the hotel including in the pickup vehicle, intensified disinfection of all rooms and air-conditioning systems and increased pest control and fumigation services to guarantee highest standards of hygiene,” he added.

Meanwhile, more hotels in Masai Mara Game Reserve have closed as booking cancellations mount because of threats from coronavirus.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, hoteliers say, occurred last week when the State announced the first case in the country, adding that it could affect the June-October peak season.

All conferences that had been booked in lodges and tented camps have been cancelled and organisers are being refunded their deposits.

Two tourists, an American and a Briton, who had been booked at Mara Intrepid Camp for two nights —Tuesday and Wednesday— were the latest to cancel their visit.

“The company, which booked them, called this afternoon to cancel because of coronavirus,” said Jane Tome, the resort’s general manager. She expects more cancellation before the end of the week.

Should the government fail to cushion hotel and general tourism industry, there would be massive losses, which would take years to reverse. “After this redundancies will follow. Hotels cannot keep workers who are doing nothing. It’s going to be tough,” she said.

All engagements at conservancies in the famed game reserve have been suspended for a week beginning Monday to monitor the spread of the disease, officials said.

“All planned events have been put on hold for a week,” said John Kisemei, liaison officer for Masai Mara Conservancies Association.

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