Covid-19 slowed things, but Kenyans breathed life into tourism industry

Tourists at Maasai Mara National game reserve in Narok County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The world came to a near standstill over a year ago when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Africa watched for a while as the virus spread through Europe, the East and the Americas.

For a moment, Africa seemed safe until the first cases began to emerge months into the announcement of the first infections around March 2020.

One of the industries that was brought down to its knees within months of the pandemic is tourism. Hotels were empty and with that came jobs losses.

Arrivals through key points of entry dwindled or completely dried up until August 2020 when there was a call across many countries to resume international flights.

The opening up of Kenya coincided with the 8th Wonder of the World, the wildebeest migration in the Mara. Strangely, this spectacle has long been viewed as an experience mainly for enjoyment by foreign tourists and now in their absence, it was time for Kenyans to savour their own heritage.

Kenyans flocked to the Mara, which literally put back food on the table for many families supported by jobs in the hospitality industry. 

With schools closed, it was easy for families to go for holidays that were not necessarily planned.

Eating out was more preferred compared to hosting guests at home, another avenue that got restaurants back to business.

With gyms closed for a long period and rated as red zones likely to increase chances of spreading Covid-19, many fitness lovers rediscovered the beauty of hiking, taking long walks, running in the neighbourhoods and beyond. This increased the entry revenues of the places chargeable, and many more people discovered these hidden gems especially in the city and its environs like Ngong Hills and Kilimambogo.

Over a year later, Kenyans have re-discovered the magic of their country. They have traversed Kenya from the North in Turkana to the far South Coast and have told their adventurous stories online for the world to know.

They have been the destination champions. Kenyans have not shied away from indicating how refreshing it has been to rediscover their own country and how little they knew about all these places they had taken for granted.

The country has been privileged to host international events. Some like the Magical Kenya Open admitted no spectators and Kenyans adhered to the regulations.

The dust at the World Rally Championship held in Naivasha has hardly settled and again Kenyans did not disappoint, they showed up and supported the local economy.

We are our destinations’ biggest brand ambassadors. We have fully owned the space of telling the magic of our country. The hospitality industry must continue to respond to this by reviewing their rates for Kenyans so that they can do more of this.

They have owned the space and are deserving of a good return for their investment in leisure travel and for virtually turning the prescribed holiday seasons to ‘anytime–travel’. The neighbouring countries have also joined and with new markets in Europe, the world will soon be back in its numbers. 

The domestic traveller has been the key anchor for tourism through the pandemic, they are the true ambassadors of tourism and are at the heart of restarting it.

This is a salute to the Kenyans who have literally held the destination together, for venturing out in this crisis to savour the beauty of their own country, and for complementing the government’s efforts in public diplomacy. 

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