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Tourism, aviation hit hard by impact of coronavirus

By Wainaina Wambu | March 15th 2020 at 07:00:00 GMT +0300

Empty seats at a section of Sarova Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, yesterday, following an outbreak of the coronavirus. The hotel has recorded low guest numbers following confirmation of the virus in the country on Friday. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The multi-billion shilling travel and tourism industry is one of the biggest sectors to suffer most from the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

Last Friday, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) announced that up to 50 million jobs were at risk globally owing to the pandemic.

The WTTC figures show that in 2018, travel in tourism in Kenya grew 5.6 per cent to contribute Sh790 billion to the economy. It also created 1.1 million jobs.

The government on Thursday set aside Sh500 million for its post coronavirus recovery plan.

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Speaking to Sunday Standard on Friday, Tourism Research Institute acting Chief Executive David Gitonga said the measures taken by countries to restrict travel would have a huge impact on the sector.

Gitonga, however, said it would be “premature” to give a detailed analysis of how the sector was being hit owing to changing dynamics in the spread of the virus.

“We are still doing our analysis. We are also not sure whether the virus has reached its peak. It would be premature to give any figures or detailed analysis now,” Gitonga said on phone.

Some hoteliers have also to send home staff if the virus continue spreading - noting that most hotels have remained empty.

At an inter-ministerial press briefing on Friday, when the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kenya, Tourism CS Najib Balala said the tourism sector was “lucky” as it was a low season for tourists floating into the country.

He, however, observed that effects had started showing due to the low count of travellers jetting into the country due to global measures meant to mitigate the spread of the virus. “Definitely, we’re going to be hit badly,” said Balala.

He noted that the Sh500 million would go to events to market Kenya once the coronavirus eases.

On Thursday, the tourism cabinet secretary met with hoteliers, tour operators, travel agent and airline representatives, whom he informed of the impact of a lock-down in some European countries to tourism.

The US has also banned flights from Europe.

According to available figures for 2018, the largest inbound markets for the country included the US, China and select countries from Europe such as the UK and Germany.

With Italy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism economy, especially at the Coast, is expected to be hit hard.

Italy has been one of the most affected countries by the Covid-19 pandemic with now over 1,200 deaths.

On Thursday, Kenya Airways suspended flights on the Rome-Genova route. The European country is currently on lockdown.

“We’ve activated our crisis management protocol to proactively address situations as they arise and implement appropriate actions,” said the national carrier in a statement.

However, the nation a carrier said all other flights would continue operating in the meantime but with adjusted schedules.

KQ promised to rebook customers affected on alternative routes, refund those who would cancel, or waive booking fees for those willing to reschedule their flights to a later date.

Italian tourists have shown preferences for Malindi and Watamu in Kilifi County. The north coast areas have a high Italian community and are nicknamed “little Italy.”

The Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association has also warned of empty hotel beds in the coming days due to the global pandemic. In a statement, WTTC Chief Executive Gloria Guevara told the BBC that the virus presented a “significant threat to the industry.”

Figures from WTTC showed that global travel could be impacted up to five per cent in 2020, which is equivalent to a loss of three months of global travel.

“The COVID-19 outbreak clearly presents a significant threat to the industry as a whole, to those employed within it, and those wishing to continue travelling,” she said.

WTTC urge governments are adopting policies for a “prompt” recovery of the sector.

These include the easing of fiscal policies such as travellers’ taxes and the introduction of incentives that ensure business continuity.

Other policy measures include relaxation of unnecessary barriers at ports and airports, simplification of visa rules and increasing budgets for promoting travel destinations.

Announcing the confirmation of the first Kenyan case on Friday, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe instituted wide-ranging prevention measures to curb the spread of the virus - some that could affect the hotel industry.

Among them included suspension of public gatherings including meetings and events.

Covid 19 Time Series


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