Scenarios for Kenya’s tourism sector post Covid-19 pandemic

Thursday, April 16th, 2020 00:00 |
Holidaymakers at the Nyali beach in Mombasa. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

One of the biggest questions that the world is asking about the travel industry is how things will be after coronavirus ends. 

How will the recovery look like? Will people, as a result of staying for too long in their homes, book hotels and travel to unwind or will there be much fear of being infected with the virus? 

Increasingly, all through March and now April, millions of people globally have lost  jobs. Headlines on travel bans and grounding of airlines  as well as cancellations of major events  spell doom to an industry that was booming before the pandemic hit.

All these changes have resulted in fears that the tourism industry could be muted for years. 

Jane Adams, chairlady of the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism says businesses will not resume for the next eight months, so it means that the industry will have to scrap off 2020 when it comes to bookings.

“The State should find a way to work with the tourism entrepreneurs to see how to cushion the business from the effect of the virus,” she says.  

Regardless of the challenges, the tourism industry has always been known to bounce back, making it one of the most resilient industries.

Jane Adams, chairlady of the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

However, even with such hope, what can we expect of it after the pandemic? 

New perceptions

Eliud Ndung’u, a tour operator foresees a perception change in client’s tastes and demands.  “They might change their attitude in terms of health safety of destinations.

Can one can be able to escape whenever there is a crisis? I also see a time when disinfection procedures will become the norm than any other package in the industry,” he says 

Eliud says players in the industry must invest in market research to understand client needs post-Covid19. 

Given the infectious nature of the virus, there is likely to be an increase in business travel more than leisure.

Unless a vaccine comes along, most people are likely to be scared to travel with their families, fearing  exposure to risk. 

“The development of a vaccine could be the game-changer and could assist in knowing who is at risk of contracting the virus or not.

Also businesses are more likely to send people to corporate events more than others,” says Eliud. Travel experts also predict hotel and travel agent casualties from the down turn.

Consequently, there will be mergers and acquisitions in an effort to recover from the ruins. 

Pricate Rental companies such as Airbnb will benefit more during this period compared to hotel chains with hundreds of rooms and shared spaces that involve large gatherings. 

This is because more consumers will enter the market with caution and social distancing will still be a habit that will refuse to go.“It’s going to be very slow and not business as usual.

Anybody who thinks things will be exactly the way things were prior Covid-19 needs to change that mindset,” warns Gitonga Wandai, lead adventurer and founder of Hikemaniak.

Gitonga foresees an influx of people travelling to various destinations in the first  three months post the pandemic.

“Within six months we expect return of tourists and probably a full recovery in a year. 

However, I fear many countries will have more restrictions in admitting foreigners at entry points, which may affect the recovery,” he says. 

Travel insurance will also see fundamental changes; people will be seeking for a revision in refund policies for the future of travel.

“You never know when things can go wrong and a travel insurance will be handy, especially with abroad visits,” says Gitonga.

Travel restrictions

Omar Ikram, General Manager  at Maiyan Resort in Nanyuki town,  says many hotels will not open with the same rates.

“Some travellers have itchy feet and want to leave home as soon as possible. Others might not have the financial means of travelling compared to  before the crisis,” he says.  

“We must also consider the travellers to ease their financial burdens. I think hotels will have to offer attractive rates so as not to damage their brands, but then discounts also mean it will also take longer to recoup lost incomes,” he says.  

Many Kenyans have gone online for food and groceries. Hotels are, therefore, likely to get more involved digitally to understand their customer requirements, says Ikram.  

“I think restaurants will have to consider having their tables set further apart,  losing sitting capacity and sales, but take aways will benefit us. Digital is the way forward to maximise takeaways and revenue,” he adds.  

John Musau, General Manager, Tamarind Tree Hotel in Nairobi and a tourism sector expert also sees a limited leisure travel in the first year as travellers will not be sure of safety of destinations.

He also sees a rise in virtual experience economy where most people will get their experiences from the Internet. 

Marketing will also change a lot. Online marketing will become the in-thing. “Business travel will also be limited as a lot of conferences and businesses will be done online,” he says.

Musau warns hotels to think of ways to diversify and not think that business will be the same once they resume. 

“I  foresee a limited workforce because employees will have to multitask and new limited menus,” he says. 

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