Tourism sector battles coronavirus impact

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 00:00 |
MAIN: Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala (right), the ministry’s Chief Administrative Secretary Joseph Boinnet and KTB chief executive Betty Radier during a crisis meeting with stakeholders over the impact of Covid-19 in Nairobi recently. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James @harriet86jim  

Under siege from the spread of the coronavirus in major source markets in Asia, Europe and America and confirmation of four cases locally, the tourism industry is fighting for survival. 

“Arrivals at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) are below average so we are already feeling the effect.

Luckily, we are now entering low season though the disease still affects us badly.

We are now looking at what our plans will be after the corona and the low season,” Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala says.

Addressing a crisis meeting of tourism sector stakeholders to discuss the impact of coronavirus on Kenya’s travel and hospitality industry, Balala said the State is taking coronavirus outbreak seriously.

“Travellers from all our source markets are being screened before departure and screened on arrival, at all border points,” he said.

The CS  said Kenya has set aside Sh500 million as part of a post-coronavirus recovery plan to help the tourism sector recover from the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, which is now threatening global economies.

Part of the funds will be used in marketing Kenya to restore destination confidence and keep the country as a preferred travel destination globally.

The balance will go towards post-coronavirus recovery strategy in all Kenya’s key source markets.

The forum had been convened by the Ministry of Tourism to discuss the preparedness of the government in relation to the sector following the global Covid-19 crisis.

High taxes 

The State is is yet to respond to appeals by the industry to offer tax exemptions to hotels and holidays to enable players to stay afloat as they continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Rob Kucera, the general manager of Radisson Blu Nairobi Upper Hill.

“This  sector is overtaxed leading to reduced profit margins,” Western Kenya Hospitality Leaders’ Association chairman Robinson Anyal complained even before the Covid-19 crisis. 

 On Tuesday, Travellers Beach Hotel, Mombasa Marketing Manager Wafula  Waswa asked the government to come up with incentives to boost the  sector, which has been highly affected by corona virus.

According to Kenya Association of Travel Agents (Kata) chief executive officer Agnes Mucuha, despite four cases being reported locally, Kenyans should continue following directives issued by the Ministry of Health to help stop the spread of the contagious disease that has so far claimed over 8,000 lives and infected about  200,000 others globally.

“We urge the public to take every precaution as they go about their business to avoid the risk of spread of Covid-19.

We are confident that the measures put in place by the State to control the spread of the disease, if adhered to, will be effective,” she said. 

Mucuha pleaded with the public to avoid spreading unsubstantiated rumours through social media on the virus to avoid causing panic.

“I encourage travellers and the public in general to seek information from credible sources such as government websites and Kata travel agents,” the CEO urged.

As the deadly coronavirus spreads its wings globally, local hotel chains are enforcing precautionary measures for guests and staff by issuing hygiene and safety advisories against the spread of the virus.

Managers of Radisson Blu, Crown Plaza Upperhill, Serena, Sarova, Sheraton Four Points and PrideInn Group hotels, among others, have assured Kenyans and international visitors that they are complying with all government directives for the safety of their guests to contain the spread of the disease. 

“There’s a small booth near the security entrance where they take the temperature of the people coming in.

They have also placed sanitizers all across the hotel,” said Amit Sharma, General Manager Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Nairobi.  

Some establishments such as Superior Hotels are using social media to educate people on how to stay safe during this season.

According to Rob Kucera, General Manager of Radisson Blu Nairobi Upper Hill, their main concern is to ensure the health and safety of their staff.

  “We have sanitisers all over the place and they also have masks if the client requests,” he added.  

More conferences cancelled

The virus has resulted in the cancellation of flights and rescheduling of passenger travel. Kata chairman Mohammed Wanyoike says  there was a six per cent decline in passenger bookings in February and 10 per cent in the first week of March. 

“We are expecting this number to continue to increase in the short term as travel restrictions come in to effect to key markets and destinations as witnessed in China, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Italy.

Governments, corporates, NGO’s, traders and travellers in general are reconsidering non-essential travel globally,” he said. 

Wanyoike said Kata members have observed a cancellation of major conventions and events in major cities, leading to a huge decline in passenger numbers and revenues for Kenyan travel agents.

Events such as the  conference on the Future of the Media Industry in Kenya scheduled to take place at the Radisson Blu Upperhill in Nairobi on March 30 have been cancelled. 

Also postponed to next year is the Africa Travel Week (ATW), which comprises of World Travel Market Africa and International Luxury Travel Market Africa.Carol Weaving, Managing Director of Reed Exhibitions Africa, organisers of ATW said; “We have had to respond to the current coronavirus pandemic. 

With many of our clients facing company travel bans, we have taken the decision to postpone the event, which was due to take place next month  to 2021.” 

Most of Kenya’s source markets such as Europe, US, Italy and France have been hit hard following a ban on all international flights.

Other source markets such as China and Italy have been banned from visiting Kenya. Wanyoike assured the public that the association will continue providing factual information and support to travellers as they keep monitoring the situation closely.

“Travel agents are assessing the situation on a case by case basis and providing recommendations for either re-routing the travel itinerary to an alternative destination or re-booking to alternative travel dates, with the option to cancel pre-booked travel arrangements,” he said. 

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