Narok faces Sh2b drop in tourism earnings as Corona wreaks havoc

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 00:00 |

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Narok County government will have shortfall of about Sh2 billion in revenue it had projected to collect from tourism activities from Masai Mara in 2019/20 fiscal year due to Covid-19 pandemic.

This as the migration of wildebeests from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the national reserve which kicks off the annual peak season is underway.

In a Sh12.17 billion budget which also factored in allocation from the national government and collections from other local sources, it projected to collect Sh2.3 billion from tariffs and fees from Mara which included gate collections, bed occupancy, hot air balloon and game drives expeditions and aircraft landings.

Tickets from gates and tour operators indicate that about 370,000 tourists visited the world famous tourist attraction in 2018.

When the government closed its airspace after the pandemic was declared an international pandemic, Governor Samuel Tunai said the Sh2 billion shortfall meant that the county would not meet its public and community obligations.

Unpaid leave

“A big shortfall like this means we will not be able to undertake most of the development projects we had earmarked for among other undertakings,” he said as lodges and tented camps closed and hundreds of workers sent on unpaid leave.

The county which is one of the richest in the country because of tourism, agriculture and livestock trade, is currently formulating its 2020/2021 budget after the end of public participation.

About two million wildebeests which are unlike previously, are now freely crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River and Sand River into the reserve are expected to leave for Serengeti to calve in early October.

Unlike in previous events where hundreds of tourists, tour operators and local and international television crews would gather along the river to record it, there are no hindrances in the spectacular crossing. 

Joseph Sindiyo, the county senior warden of the park says it is the first time since 1958 when the park was established that the June-October peak season will be without visitors even as local tourism has been severely affected by the pandemic. 

“Previously at time like this all hotels would have been in brisk business. Airstrips and roads would also be busy bringing visitors to watch the event.

Money circulation in and out of Mara would have been high,” he says.

Patrick Wanjohi, the managing director of Into Africa Eco Travel Company Ltd says even if the government open up the economy soon, most tourists will stay away because of the threat of the novel coronavirus, adding that it might take up to two years before the travel sector gets back to life.

He adds that the resurgence of the virus even after curves have been flattened in France and other European countries which are Kenya’s traditional markets, are indicators of the long journey it will take to tame it and allow free movements.

The second wave of infections in China is also standing in the way of revival of tourism and other dependant sectors considering the fact that arrival of visitors from the East Asian nation was in competition with Europe before coronavirus erupted.

“In short term, it is likely to take up to two years before some semblance in resumption of travel is realised.

That means jobs and livelihoods in the sector and tourism sector in general will be continue to be affected,” he says, adding that although Tanzania has opened up its economy and airspace, international flights to and from Dar-es-salaam and Kilimanjaro International airports are yet to resume because of the fears Covid-19 has instilled worldwide.

“Hotels in Serengeti and Ngorongoro are still empty even after the country opened the economy and airspace. There will be cautious travelling long after the pandemic is tamed,” said Wanjohi.

Njoroge Gichina, the national chairman, Tour Guides and Drivers Association says more than 350,000 people who directly or indirectly depend on travel are in financial doldrums, unable to repay loans and feed their dependants.

“It ended abruptly. No one saw it coming to plan ahead. Most of those who were still servicing their loans are feeling the effects. Even those in the car hire business are in the mix,” he adds.

Without visitors

Joseph Keiwua, the national chairman of Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels and Allied Workers says without visitors, even the Sh3.8 billion the government has in the 2020/2021 financial year towards revival of tourism industry would not achieve much.

He says renovating hotels and marketing them may not achieve the target unless  the pandemic is contained, adding that local tourism should be embraced through reduction of duties, tariffs and fees.

“Treasury should have waited because the pandemic is still ravaging our markets.

The money should be channelled to efforts to promote local tourism and to the welfare of about 200,000 of our members who were abruptly sacked to get back to their feet,” he says.

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