Travelling will turn you into a storyteller.Santina Nyagah
In May when the iconic Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi closed,I wrote an article that is now available on LinkedIn on how the Kenyan hotel industry could rethink their operations post pandemic.
At the moment the Cabinet Secretary incharge of the Tourism sector Najib Balala estimates the industry has lost over Kes 80 Billion since the pandemic hit the country in mid March of this year .The hospitality industry is holding its breath as we wait to hear what the President has to say at the lapse of the 30 day lockdown period that ends on the 6th of July.
If there is one thing that I miss terribly since we have been on lock down,it is being able to get into the car and travel,go somewhere,just get out of the house and drive.I am not alone in this and a lot of people are just waiting to get out of the city and go somewhere,anywhere, we have been cooped in our houses for so long !The world over,there has been a downturn in the number of people making any form of travel and international travel has been hard hit.At the moment the only people getting to travel are the expatriates going back to their home countries.
The tourism sector in Kenya relies a lot on international travellers especially from Europe who come to the country during the summer months of June,July,August and September which are the peak months in the tourism calendar.Domestic tourism in the country peaks during the school holiday months of April,August and December. This year hotel occupancy by both international and domestic tourists is at an all time low and many hotel industry staff have been affected by the lockdown and lay offs that have resulted from low bed occupancy and no tourists coming in.
Industry pundits are predicting that travel is likely to resume next year and if it does will take some time before we see the numbers we enjoyed before the pandemic.For the time being the tourism sector’s best bet will have to be the domestic tourists.The pandemic has so restricted international travel, countries are acting very cautiously to the reopening of their borders. Even when they have reported a decline in infection transmission over a 2 week period because of the fears over the second aves of infections, a majority of airplanes still remain grounded with very few taking to the skies.
So what should local industry players be doing as we wait out the crisis?
Hotels should be planning on making the most of the domestic tourism sector.With people having had no form of travel for leisure ,if we see an easing down of the lock down measures especially in the counties of Nairobi and Mombasa , people will be looking to get out of their houses if only for some bit of sightseeing.
With the hashtag #GoToTheParks the government has announced that there has been a slashing of park fees for both locals and foreigners with the fee for film makers also being slashed in a bid to rescue the tourism sector that is currently on its knees.
Hopefully hotel owners follow suit and provide discounts for both Kenyans and any foreign tourists who may want to visit the country during this time, targeting regional travellers as well will help boost tourist numbers .Last week we saw aviation industry players assessing the state of preparedness in the country’s airports to ensure they were up to par in terms of health and safety standards for both the staff and travellers who would be using them.
The domestic and regional travel market could become a source of much needed cash if utilized well.The first thing to do would be to give resident rates especially in places that have traditionally marketed themselves as destinations for Western tourists.With reasonable discounts these places which have remained exclusively for foreign tourists would attract enough domestic tourists to cater for their operating costs as well as keep some if not all their staff.
Domestic airlines of which there are a number that offer flights especially to the coastal area could give discounts on their tickets.The coastal region has to be the hardest hit by the slump in tourist numbers and reviving this sector in the county of Mombasa is crucial.Hopefully the Governor of Mombasa Hassan Ali Joho who has done a commendable job of trying to control the transmission rates in the county will sit down with industry stakeholders to chart the way forward.
Regionally travel numbers remain low, we don’t have much intra African travel and if we do its mostly for business.This is the time for countries to open their borders to fellow Africans, care having been taken to ensure we are not taking the virus across our borders by having medical checks at entry points.We know too little about each other as African countries and the pandemic is an opportunity to travel within and across our borders and get to appreciate each other’s cultures.SANTINA NYAGAH
In the East African region,there is the East Africa Tourist Visa which is a single entry visa for foreigners visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda simultaneously. It is multi-entry visa valid within the three countries and expires automatically if a traveler goes outside of the three countries.The idea of the tourist visa was borne out of the need to boost tourism within the region,details on how you can go about applying for the visa can be found here.
Hopefully we do not waste the chance the pandmeic has thrown at us to rethink the tourism industry locally and in the region.This could be the chance to increase tourist numbers not just within our regions but across the continent and spur economic opportunities and jobs for Africa’s young population.
More domestic and regional travel could be the saving grace for the millions in Africa who rely on the tourism and hospitality industry as their source of livelihood.Tweet