Hoteliers reject calls for fresh Covid restrictions

Friday, December 11th, 2020 00:00 |
A resident in Nairobi takes Covid-19 test. Photo/PD/FILE

John Otini and Roy Lumbe

Hospitality sector players have rejected calls on the government to restrict movement during the holiday season to curb spread of Covid-19 pandemic. Kenya Coast Hotels Association (KCHA) expressed concern that more lockdowns could hurt the recovery of the sector.

“At the moment some hotels have about 50 to 60 per cent bed occupancy up from near zero.

We urge the government to take targeted measures, not blanket bans,” said KCHA chief executive Julius Owino.

Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi said instead of calling for restrictions, governors should focus on providing isolation centres and equipping medics. 

The operators wondered why the Sh3 billion stimulus package promised by the government failed to materialise.

The concern by the players in the industry comes at a time the Council of Governors is pushing for restrictions against travelling during the holiday season, saying urban dwellers would pose danger to rural populations.

It is estimated that up to 90 per cent of the hotels in the region have reopened for operations though a few are still closed due to, among other factors, high cost of operation.

Most of the tourists are locals with only about 10 per cent being foreigners despite lifting of travel bans in most countries around the world.

Owino said hotels have implemented strict protocols and guidelines, adding that the Covid-19 numbers are mainly rising from community infections not the tourism sector.

A survey by Central Bank of Kenya shows at least 89 per cent of all the hotels were back in operations in October compared to just 35 per cent in May. It also indicates that employment had started rising due to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Employment in the sector continues to recover, averaging 45 per cent of pre-Covid levels compared with 37 per cent in May,” CBK said in the survey.

Average bed occupancy for most of the hotels was up by 24 per cent in the period compared to just 10 per cent in May due to the lifting of travel restrictions in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa and resumption of international flights.

Existing conditions

Most players said under the existing conditions, they expect to attain normal (pre-Covid) levels of operations between late 2020 and 2021.

They also decried the compliance costs of health protocols, saying while the costs remained high, revenues were too low to meet expenses.

In Nakuru County, tourism industry players are projecting a slight increase in business ahead of the Christmas holidays despite the economic aftershocks caused by the outbreak and spread of Covid-19. 

Nakuru Tourism Association Chairman David Mwangi said although Kenya reopened its borders to international tourists in August, most tourists are locals, attracted by lower hotel rates.

He said there had been a slight rise in bookings from domestic tourists, adding that it will enable the sector to remain afloat amid the pandemic. 

Mwangi who spoke to Business Hub, urged Kenyans to embrace domestic travel as a way of boosting tourism to sustainable levels in the country and sustain jobs among those employed in the sector. 

Peter Kamundia, a stakeholder, said they have had a lot of challenges in marketing tourism in the country, especially amid the pandemic.  He said they had opted to target local tourists to boost their revenues.

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