Guides offer tour vans to boost fight against pandemic
Jobless members of the Kenya Tour Driver Guides Association (KTDGA) are now offering their experience in driving through rough terrains in remote game parks and their off-road Toyota Land cruisers to the State to help contain the spread of Coronavirus.
“We are telling the Ministry of Health, through the Ministry of Tourism, that our idle, rough terrain Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and tour vans can be used to transport equipment, medical staff and medicine wherever needed in the country,” says Nicholas Kiritu, National Chairman of the KTDGA.
Currently, over 5,000 safari guides are jobless with zero income for the third month on a row.
The guides have been hoping for cash stipends from the government following the announcement of a Sh500 million-stimulus package to the industry.
Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala says Kenya has set aside Sh500 million to assist in the recovery of the tourism sector from the aftermath of coronavirus k, which is now threatening global economies.
He added that a section of the cash would be utilised for marketing Kenya as a destination and to restore Kenya as a preferred travel destination globally.
In a TV interview, Balala assured SMEs such as tour guides that he was setting up a mitigating plan to ensure that they access soft loans (both long and short term) to revive the economy.
However, players in the industry feel that the money should have been redirected to cushion businesses in the sector.
“It’s unfortunate that tourism was the first sector to be hit hard because we are talking of as early as February when tourists started cancelling their travel plans,” says Kiritu.
Consequently, most tour guides are at home, either jobless or on reduced salaries.
In Tanzania and Uganda, most safari guides, potters and driver guides have been fired without any benefits and most have lost their livelihoods.
“Since we cannot go to other businesses like public service transport such as matatus or taxis, our tour vans can be used by the government to transport anything they want to take to places around the country or to transport medics and other specialists during this pandemic,” Kiritu said.
In an online meeting with Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja recently, the tour guides pleaded to be included in tourism stakeholders’ meetings as vulnerable groups.
“Most of us had borrowed heavily to buy vehicles for the 2020 season, now grounded,” laments Felix Migoya, the Secretary General of East Africa Tour Guide Association.
“Whenever there are logistic jobs in the government, can they consider tour guides and their vehicles? They can’t use matatus as those desire to stick to their own lanes,” Migoya says.
Tour guides are of two categories; staff guides who are employed by safari firms and the bulk who are the freelance safari guide/drivers who supplement transportation of tourists into various destinations.
The East Africa Tour Guide Association is registered in Kenya and was started to bring professionalism in the industry through self-regulation.
Currently, they are championing for high standards of hospitality within East Africa as a whole because they believe countries in the region share a common product —wildlife.
“The government can support the tourism SMEs where tour and safari guides falls among the self-employed.
In conjunction with the various associations, the State can also assist guides such as those who are servicing loans,” says Migoya.
The guides are also asking the State to look into waiving license fees and penalties that tour guides pay each year. The players pay for four statutory licenses every two years.
In the online meeting, Migoya advised the Senate to consider a Travel Trade Employee Stabilisation Fund in future to safeguard the livelihoods of SMEs in the sector.
“Such a fund is a system where an insurance fund is opened and contributions from members are received and saved over time. In times when there are entrenchment, death or a crisis such as this pandemic, it covers them,” said Migoya.
“Tourism has been affected badly by Covid-19 and hence it’s good that we push that players are also considered when it comes to offering relief,” advised Sakaja