No respite in hotel industry crisis as Covid-19 spreads

Thursday, April 9th, 2020 00:00 |
Nobody to welcome for this monkey at Amboseli Sopa Lodge. Photo/COURTESY

Harriet James @harriet86jim

After nearly all hotels in the country  closed down, attention is turning to the plight of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs.   

Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) chairman Mohamed Hersi says in the tourism sector, the jobs of about three million people who are employed directly or indirectly in the travel and hotel industry are under threat.

“We have about three million people in the tourism sector directly be affected by losing their jobs. It’s the worst-ever catastrophe to be experienced,” he said.

Even though President Kenyatta has unveiled double-edged measures to ensure that the economy is cushioned from the effects of the pandemic, the tourism sector was left on its own. 

“The president gave some solutions. We need support to sustain the investments so that we can resume operations once the situation normalises.

Electricity and other fixed costs should be waived,” says Dr Sam Ikwaye, Executive officer of Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association at the Coast.

“We have discussed at length the issues surrounding labour and the situation caused by the onset of Covid-19.

Our position that businesses will grind to a halt and that at some point the government will have to intervene in one way or the other,” says Ikwaye. 

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has called upon all governments to take immediate action in ensuring the survival of the sector.

Most countries are experiencing lock downs and travel restrictions, forcing hotels to shut down or suspend operations. 

WTTC President and Chief Executive  Gloria Guevara emphasised on the need for the governments to act immediately, stating that any further delay will lead to loss of millions of jobs and an incalculable damage globally. She pointed out three crucial measures that governments should adopt.

World Travel and Tourism Council President and CEO, Gloria Guevara. Photo/COURTESY

This is in addition to the recovery of funds, which will protect the survival of millions of people who heavily rely on the sector for their livelihood.

“First, financial help must be granted to protect the incomes of the millions of workers in the sector facing severe economic difficulties,” she said. 

Waive taxes

Secondly, governments must extend vital, unlimited interest-free loans to global travel and tourism companies as well as the millions of small and medium sized businesses as a stimulus to prevent them from collapse.

“Thirdly, all government taxes, dues and financial demands on the travel sector need to be waived with immediate effect at least for the next 12 months,”  Guevara said.

Ikwaye says Kenya  government representatives have assured the local industry of their support, “as we must walk the journey together as partners.

On our part we are taking all the necessary steps to save jobs with a solid plan agreed with the trade unions in our industry as we explore other options in the interim,” he added

John Musau, General Manager at Tamarind Tree Hotel in Nairobi,  has also urged the State to take measures to ensure that the industry is on its feet.

“Obviously after the pandemic the government will have to do a lot of marketing. It also needs to waive visa fees  to boost tourism,”  he says  

Accodrding to Jane Adams, chairlady Kenya Association of Women in Tourism, among the other challenges that the sector faces is dealing with cancelled bookings.

“Those who had booked are looking for refunds and trying to convince the clients to rebook is hard,” she says.  

Adams urges the State to find a way to work with the tourism entrepreneurs to see how to cushion the business from the effect of the virus. “Businesses will not resume for the next eight  months, so it means we will have to scrap off 2020 when it comes to bookings,” she says.  

“The microfinance sector, too, will have to come up with a package to cushion hotels, tour operators and agents not just look at the welfare of the workers, but the industry holistically,” she adds. 

Some of the hotels that have been closed down include Sopa lodges, Weston, DusitD2, The White Rhino in Nyeri  town and Maiyan (Nanyuki town).

In an unprecednted move in its 10-year history, the Serena group  has shut down 10 lodges and camps both in Kenya and Tanzania until June 15, 2020.

“As we navigate this unprecedented crisis and build on the company’s resilience and adaptability, whilst keeping destination Kenya and Tanzania in the minds of the business and leisure sources markets, it is with a ‘heavy heart’ that we advise that the Serena Lodges and Camps will temporarily cease operations until 15 June 2020,” Serena Hotels said.

Lodges closed

Enashipai Resort and Spa on Lake Naivasha shores has  closed down until further notice, said Director James Mwangi. Sopa Lodges too has also announced closure of four of its lodges in Kenya until further notice.

The lodges are Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge from March 26, Amboseli Sopa Lodge, Masai Mara Sopa Lodge from April 1 as well as Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort from April 15, 2020.

“Due to the fluidity of the situation and ever changing information on the Covid-19 outbreak, we can’t  communicate a definite date as to when we will resume services, we all hope and pray that this situation changes as swiftly as possible and we will keep you informed in regards to any new developments accordingly,” said Sopa Lodges in a statement.

Luxury boutique hotel brand Hemingways Collection has also suspended  operations in its Ol Seki Mara and Hemingways Nairobi properties due to the pandemic.“We will retain all 400 plus  employees,” said chairman, Dick Evans. 

Musau of Tamarind says low occupancy and high cost of running hotels have forced majority of hotels to close.

“The only hotels operating are the ones providing the mandatory government self-quarantine. The closure has led to job losses and salary cuts.

We hope to bounce back as soon as things stabilise. For now it’s working  from home and staying safe,” he says.  

At the beginning of the year, there were hopes that the hospitality industry would be booming with the number of international guest arrival to approximately 2.3 million in 2020.

The industry also witnessed a rise in the MICE industry as an alternative to leisure travel because of growth in the aviation industry as well as political stability.

More on Lifestyle