Inside Politics

Hoteliers bet on foreign guests to rebound

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 00:00 |
Tourist vans crowd a popular Mara River crossing point for wildebeests migrating from Serengeti Park. Photo/PD/COURTESY

The hospitality industry is gradually recovering after months of business hiatus occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the resumption of operations, bed occupancy remains relatively low compared to similar season in previous years.

Peter Leshan, Jasmine Atieno and Noven Owiti

The hospitality industry is slowly recovering after months of business hiatus occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the resumption of operations, bed occupancy remains relatively low compared to similar season in previous years.

Hotels around the country are slowly gearing up for full re-opening a month after the government eased some of the imposed travel restrictions.

A spot check by Travelwise in several tourism hubs across the country has established that the hospitality sector is hopeful after the intense shakeup occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the hotels have begun welcoming back visitors. 

In Masai Mara, several high-end hotels have started receiving inquiries from travel agents whose customers are planning to visit to watch the ongoing crossing of wildebeests from Serengeti in Tanzania to the game reserve.

Currently, various lodges and tented camps, which have reopened after being given a clean of bill by the Ministry of Health are 50 per cent to 60 per cent occupied mainly by local tourists.

“We have started receiving inquiries from travel agents whose clients are nationalities of countries, which are allowed into the country.

Beginning next week, we will be busier than we were since the middle of last month when we opened for business after four months of closure,” said George Pere, Manager, Keekorok Lodge. 

Joseph Sindiyo, Narok County Senior Warden, says that all hotels in the park will be operational by the end of the month.

Hotels in Masai Mara will next week start receiving foreign visitors a week after the country re-opened international flights. 

“Before the end of the month, all hotels will be in business. Enough test kits, reagents and personnel have been deployed by the Health Ministry to facilitate testing,” said Sindiyo.

Strict measures

Most mobile camps, which have been operating mainly during peak seasons will not open due to expected low number of tourists from China and traditional markets occasioned by travel restrictions and what hoteliers claim as high charges for Covid-19 testing and certification. 

Tom Were, the General Manager, Ashnil Group of Hotels, which are being run and managed by Somak Travels Ltd, said its 120 bed capacity unit in Mara has been fully booked since its doors opened, adding that the new rules, which require beddings to be cleaned and mattresses steamed after guests check out of their rooms, were standing in the way of prompt bookings.

“We are forced to control guests who visit the lodge. Except for couples and families, a room is occupied by one guest.

When they check out, rooms are fumigated, beddings are dry cleaned and mattresses steamed about 12 hours before next guests check in,” said Were. 

He says that strict enforcement of coronavirus protocols will be in place from next week when international arrivals are expected adding that meals will be served in phases at different intervals to avoid congestion.

Tourists from UK, other European markets and India are expected to visit with Were noting that they will keep the business alive since they are known to be big spenders when compared to the locals.  

Aruba Lodge in Tsavo National Park, which is also managed by Ashnil Group, has opened, albeit in low business volumes.

But the hotel is yet to open its doors in Samburu Game Reserve after it was swept away by flash floods in April.

At the Coast, few hotels, especially in the North region are already open while others are gearing up to start operations in the coming days. 

According to Maureen Awuor, Manager Ocean Beach and Chairperson, Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, Kilifi County, most of the hotels are getting ready to open while renovating their facilities and following up on the protocols put in place by the Ministry of health. 

Staff testing

Maureen says that hotels have encountered several challenges including shortage of kits to test their staff.

“Processing of the certificates is also another challenge because clearance from the relevant offices takes time,” she said.

Among the hotels which have re-opened are Driftwood, Ocean Beach Resort, Tropical in Malindi, Hemingways, Crystal Bay, Medina Palms, Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu.

According to Damian Davies, General Manager, Turtle Bay Beach Club, the hotel was reopened on 17th July, and is already receiving guests. 

“We have fulfilled all the required protocols from the ministry of health and the government as well, which includes disinfecting all the stations in the facility, extensive testing of our staff of course and all the requirements which were put in place,” says Damian adding that they expect to receive international bookings following the re-opening of the skies.

In Tsavo East and West, hotel activities are yet to resume. According to Willie Mwadilo, General Manager, Salt Lick Safari Lodge, Taita Hills Safari Resort and Spa and Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, the facilities are set to reopen on 15th of August.

The facilities have several local and international bookings for September.

Diminishing volumes

Hotels in Western Kenya are still registering low business volumes weeks after resumption of operations even as the proprietors strive to recover from the losses and sustain their workforce.

Busia Tourism Association Chief Executive Dancun Kubasu says business is still slowed down despite a number of hotels in the county re-opening.

According to Kubasu, Busia hotels are recording less than 10 per cent bed occupancies since business resumption with most guests being local travellers while attributing the low numbers to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.

“There is an element of fear over the virus spread hence people are limiting hotel visits,” he says.

The association’s executive points out that a number of the hotels are not hosting events due to the regulation on social gatherings.

Conferences, which drive the region’s hospitality industry, have equally reduced.

The facilities are just hosting small meetings constituting between 10 to 15 people. 

In Kisumu town, hotels which were at about 30 per cent occupancy before Covid-19 pandemic, are now recording averagely  five per cent bed occupancy.

Kisumu’s Wigot Gardens Hotel Manager Phelix Owiti says the facilities are majorly receiving accommodations for essential travels, walk-in local guests and few meetings consisting of small groups.

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