Narok hotels on the verge of closing shop
Hotels in Narok county that were set up primarily for conference tourism have in the last one and a half years since the advent of coronavirus continued to record heavy losses running to millions of shillings due to lack of business.
The hotels, which before used to host local and international conferences, their owners say, will close if they do not resume normal operations before April next year, claiming that the sluggish pace of mass vaccination against Covid-19 in the country was aggravating the situation.
These hotels outside the Masai Mara Game Reserve used to mainly host conferences for the East African Community countries, local and international NGOs for most counties and the national government ministries and organisations.
“We used to host seven conferences daily before the pandemic. Since the ease of the lockdown, we now only host one or two conferences weekly,” says Ishmael Ayabei, the general manager of Chambai Springs, which has 16 fully equipped conference halls.
Loss of business
Seasons Hotels and Lodges, MaraLink, Park Villa, Supreme Executive, The Mara Frontier, Zebu Lodge, among other establishments that are mostly located outside the town with spacious grounds, accommodation, conference rooms and car parking, are also feeling the pinch of loss of business.
Ayabei says before the lockdown in March last year, many events including two for East African Community member states had been booked up to December that year, adding that they were all cancelled and the management forced to refund any upfront payments.
“We had bought and assembled everything, ready for the events. When the lockdown was imposed without prior warning.
We were forced to refund money to the organisers. It might take time before we resume because of the slow vaccination,” he said.
He could not immediately say how much the hotel—which has five presidential suites—has lost, but in estimate it runs into millions of shillings.
Ayabei adds that most of his workers are still out of work because business is yet to resume.
He says that he expects full resumption of business after all eligible Kenyans have been vaccinated against Covid-19, and petitions the government to speed up acquisition and deployment of vaccines.
Because of high prices of food and accommodation in Masai Mara, these hotels also used to accommodate mainly local tourists who visited for game viewing expeditions.
During the pandemic period, hoteliers there say, lodges and camps in Mara also lost a lot of income due to the absence of high profile international and local conferences.
Henry Nyaema, the proprietor of MaraLink, said his facility had lost about Sh80 million since March 2020, and the losses are still continuing because of the nationwide curfew and other coronavirus restrictions.
The hotel, had expanded space for conferences, but when the process was completed and ready for more meetings, coronavirus pandemic erupted, observing that most of them borrowed loans to up their businesses and had not finished repaying.
“We owe financial institutions money that we are now struggling to repay. Most of us invested a lot in expanding the facilities and we are now looking for money to keep other sections of our hotels going,” he told TravelWise.
Before Covid-19, hoteliers say the government’s directive to all ministries and parastatals to hold conferences in government institutions instead of hotels to save the exchequer money, had had negative impact on their businesses.
“Covid-19 was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Earlier, we were still struggling to survive after the government directive,” said Nyaema.