October 31, 2020

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UK’s strict Covid-19 rules slow Kenya’s tourism recovery

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UK’s strict Covid-19 rules slow Kenya’s tourism recovery


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Tourists at the Kanya-Tanzania border wait to witness the wildebeest crossing on July 19, a few days after the government eased travel restrictions. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NMG

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Summary

  • The resumption of flights, coinciding with the peak of the high season of the wildebeest migration, was meant to entice international travellers as well as local tourists to the Mara.
  • The number of visitors in August was, however less than 10 per cent of the arrivals during a similar period in 2019.
  • With the low arrivals, the recent announcement by the United Kingdom (UK) requiring travellers who come to the region to quarantine for 14 days upon return to their home country has served further to deter visitors from coming into the country.

Two months ago, Kenya’s skies were reopened for international travel. This was supposed to offer a lifeline for the ailing tourism and hospitality sector.

The resumption of flights, coinciding with the peak of the high season of the wildebeest migration, was meant to entice international travellers as well as local tourists to the Mara.

The number of visitors in August was, however less than 10 per cent of the arrivals during a similar period in 2019.

With the low arrivals, the recent announcement by the United Kingdom (UK) requiring travellers who come to the region to quarantine for 14 days upon return to their home country has served further to deter visitors from coming into the country.

So stringent have the measures become that the UK government has also added monetary fines for those who fail to follow the laid out quarantine regulations. This includes travellers who have transited through the countries not exempt by the state.

“The travel restrictions from the UK and other source markets have had a negative impact on the industry as a whole as the numbers that would have travelled into Kenya especially during the peak season could have been better,” said Barnabas Wamoto, Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport Hotel General Manager.

The number of international arrivals fell 91.2 per cent to 14,049 from 159,804. The United States maintained its status as the country’s biggest market amid the Covid-19 pandemic, accounting for 2,768 tourists followed by the UK at 2,469. Uganda was third with 506 visitors.

Data from the Tourism Research Institute shows that 6,368 or 45 per cent of the tourists came to visit friends and families while 3,685 were on holiday.

National carrier Kenya Airways on account of Covid-19 disruptions indicated in its latest financials that its net loss had increased to Sh14.33 billion for the first six months of the year and its passenger numbers dropped by 55.5 per cent to 1.1 million compared to a similar period last year.

Retreating revenue

During the review period, total revenue dipped by 48 per cent to Sh30.21 billion ($279m) in line with the fall in passenger numbers. The halting of flights saw passenger revenue retreat by 53 per cent to Sh20.23 billion ($187m) as many passengers cancelled flights.

“We anticipated and hoped that business would bounce back almost immediately especially after ensuring that the hotel had put all measures in place in as far as compliance with the Covid-19 protocols is concerned,” said Mr Wamoto.

“So far, it has been a struggle as not all the airlines are fully back in operation and also those that are operational are pushing fewer numbers due to social distancing, financial constraints occasioned by the impact of Covid-19 to the airline and tourism industry respectively.”

The hospitality sector, which has been forced to make additional investment in their safety and hygiene protocols, has decried the restrictions from its source markets.

Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport Hotel which was the first to receive CovidClean Certification locally is struggling with low traffic as flights operate at limited capacity and tourists opt for alternative destinations.

“As an airport hotel, we are dependent on both domestic and International clients on transit. The numbers in both domestic and international travel have been extremely low and therefore the expected foot fall to our hotel has been compromised,” he said.

Kenya too has placed restrictions to those travelling into her territory including the infamous PCR test taken a minimum 96 hours before a flight.

“In North America and Europe, the test is not available for everyone as they only run the test if one has signs of Covid-19. Those without symptoms requiring the test must seek out private testing which can cost as much as $200,” said Mohammed Hersi, Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation.

In addition to the cost, most countries take seven to 14 days to release the results, making the test invalid to board a flight to Kenya.

According to Mr Hersi, other destinations including Zanzibar are opening up their borders with fewer restrictions and offering the test within their territories at subsidised rates, making it more affordable and appealing to tourists.

“There are also other destinations coming up such as Turkey,” said Mr Hersi. The European country is offering an alternative to Kenya’s source markets at more affordable rates and with less restrictions.

Hotels, camps and lodges in the country as well as the ecosystems they support are still reeling under the Sh80 billion lost in the first six months of the year as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions.

This has been one of the worst performance for a sector that contributes about 10 per cent of the gross domestic product.

The hospitality players have also been forced to make additional investment as well as take a cut on revenue as the spaces are subject to social distancing. This has also meant increased investment in safety and hygiene at the facilities.

“We have hotels in Nairobi that are yet to reopen. The numbers are not great with some having less than 30 per cent occupancy,” said Mr Hersi.

He added that the tours and travels segment has also been equally affected, with travel companies yet to receive outstanding payments for clients including private sector as well as county governments.

Lifeline

Domestic tourism has helped keep doors open at some popular holiday destinations. However, the volumes and lack of foreign exchange investment have not cushioned the industry.

Turning around the about 60 per cent reduction in the number of guests in dining section coupled with occupancies averaging less than 30 per cent across the market, is an uphill task for hoteliers.

Movenpick Hotel in a previous interview had indicated that they had to cut capacity in their restaurant from 75 to 34 per cent. Trademark Hotel’s Harvest restaurant had to reduce its in-dining service from 120 to 55 persons.

Mr Wamoto said it will require other countries to lift the travel advisories for any potential traveller to start planning their leisure or business trips.

“Similarly the economic recovery of source markets will determine the pace of the resumption of holiday and business travel. We, however remain optimistic that Tourism will get back to its old glory though gradually,” he added. A sentiment which Mr Wamoto, Mr Hersi and the industry share.

Mr Wamoto said it will require other countries to lift the travel advisories for any potential traveller to start planning their leisure or business trips.