By Dama Kalama
Reliance on foreign arrivals and ongoing global COVID 19 pandemic crisis has virtually turned the hotel industry along the coastal front from Vanga in Kwale County to Kiunga in Lamu County into ‘ghost’ establistments with zero activities.
A look at the numbers of arrivals in Kenya paints a gory picture with this year’s June intake indicating only 534 visitors arriving through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Moi International Airport (MIA).
The March 13, 2020 was the tipping point when the country announced its first case of COVID 19 precipitating the government to suspend all international flights in and out of the country from March 25 till August 1, 2020. On average, Kenya, receives approximately 130,000 visitors per month before the coronavirus outbreak.
Since its first pandemic case, the country has lost more that $750 million (about Sh81 billion) in tourism revenue which is roughly half of last year’s totals. As of November 2, 2020, the cummulative number of COVID 19 cases has surpassed the 56,000-plus mark.
However, since the opening of the international borders on August 1, 2020, the country has experienced an upsurge of tourist arrivals to the tune of 14,049 as per the Tourism and Wildlife Ministry.
Statistics released by the Tourism Research Institute the major points of entry are JKIA which had 13,249 arrivals while MIA recorded a mere 645 international tourist numbers.
Details of the data of 14,049 arrivals indicate that 6,368 came to visit family or friends; 3,685 for holiday, 2,325 on business, 1,129 in transit; 221 for education; 194 for medical; 72 for religious purposes; 47 for meetings,incentives, conferences and exhibition (MICE) and eight for sports.
According to the tourism and wildlife ministry the top three international arrivals are the United States (2,768), Britain (2,469) and Uganda (506).
In his view, Kenya Coast Tourism Association chairman Victor Shitakha notes that the situation has been worsened by travel and foreign countries restrictions that have adversely affected the tourism industry due to coronavirus.
Mr Shitakha, who also doubles up as the Flamingo for Pride Hotel, expreses fears that the number of foreign tourists may further decline if the country continues to experience a spike in Covid-19 during the second wave.
Kenya, according to him, should brace itself for slow international arrivals because despite the pandemic is taking toll of the lucrative sector and this could worsen in the next two years heading to the electioneering period.
“We are in the shoulder tourism season and at a time like this last year the sector was at 50 percent compared to now where we are experiencing just between 2-3 percent foreign tourists. And history shows that many tourists don’t travel to Kenya when we are nearing electioneering period,” he says.
However, the domestic market which accounts for almost 80 percent of tourism numbers at the Coast was significantly improving as the season headed to the end of this year’s festivities and after some of the restrictions were eased.
He expresses optimism that the sector will rebound if focus on the domestic market is given the priority.
As it is the sector is currently at 30 percent on week days and 50-70 percent on weekends due to MICE tourism with the Pride hotels registering about 62 percent bookings.
“Since the government eased restrictions locally, we were registering between 6-7 percent weekdays and 20 percent on weekends, but with time we are responding well as we are now at 30 percent weekdays and 50 percent on weekends,” he adds.
According to him many local establishments have opted to reduce their rates as little as Sh5,000 for accommodation so as to attract domestic tourism that is also facing bearing the brunt of the economic shocks of COVID 19.
On his part, the Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi says travelling hours for tourists from European countries is affecting the sector’s turn around because of the imposed dusk to dawn curfew.
Therefore, in his view, many tourists are opting to visit the neighbouring tourism destinations of Zanzibar and its mainland counterparts of Tanzania that have no lockdowns.