Hope for Western tourism after Uhuru lifts lockdown

Acacia Premier Hotel in Kisumu. The hospitality industry in the western region is gearing up for increased business following the lifting of travel restrictions by the government. [File, Standard]

The hospitality industry in Western Kenya is eying a boom following the lifting of travel restrictions into and out of five counties.

Already, players in the industry have said a number of bookings, which had been cancelled following the lockdown of Nairobi, Nakuru, Machakos, Kajiado and Kiambu, are being rescheduled, with clients making inquiries.

Yesterday, Lake Region Tourism Circuit Chairman Robinson Anyal said a number of hotels were recalling their staff who had been sent on leave.

With the region banking on conference tourism which makes up to 80 per cent of its business, Anyal said the opening up of Nairobi was set to stir operations.

“With the domestic flights back, movement between the three top cities of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa will be a catalyst for the partial resumption and recovery of domestic tourism,” said Ayal.

And with this year’s Madaraka Day set to be held in Kisumu on June 1, Mr Anyal said most of the players were looking into using the opportunity created by the lifting of the travel restrictions to get ready for the big event.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to stay in Kisumu for three days ahead of the national celebration, as he launches a number of national government projects in the area.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Karanja Kibicho had last week visited Kisumu to supervise the preparations ahead of the event, as well as the progress of the ongoing national government projects.

Some of the projects include the renovation of Kisumu Port, the construction of Jomo Kenyatta Sports Complex in Mamboleo, the completion of Kisumu-Kakamega Road, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Sports Centre and Uhuru Business Park.

A number of government officials are expected to throng the region ahead of the event, and Anyal said the area’s hospitality industry was already preparing to host them.

“During cessation of movement, our occupancy rates dropped to below 15 per cent from 30 per cent with very minimal conferences and events. In the next few weeks it will climb back to between 20 to 30 per cent with expected substantial improvement on events, meetings and conferences. We expect slight but gradual improvement on performance for the domestic tourism,” said Anyal.

He added: “Our hotels have fully implemented the government protocols on Covid-19. In fact, hotels in the region have not registered cases of Covid-19 unlike other industries. We will still maintain survival mode with a percentage of employees working on alternating shifts within the week and on a percentage pay.”

Philemon Origa, Whirl Spring Hotel director said the facility has started getting guests from Nairobi.

“Some groups that had cancelled their bookings due to the lockdown have reconfirmed their bookings,” said Gladys Atieno, Royal City Garden manager.

Acacia Premier General Manager Shanawaz Basheer said: “We are optimistic. It’s a tough time for the industry and for the people, but we have to have hope.”

“We anticipate better business especially from our Nairobi clientele, through seminars and conferences. Rest assured we remain committed to providing a safe and conducive environment to all our guests, while observing very strict Covid protocols,” said Suleiman Wanda, the general manager, Aturukan Hotel, Trans Nzoia County.

In Busia, Calvin Ouma, a manager at The Quill Hotel, said they have been relying on guests from Kampala, Uganda, but were optimistic of local guests following the opening up of the country.

“We need to push the government to talk to the Uganda government to open up the border for Western Kenya to thrive,” he said.

Anyal said his office has made appeals to the national and county governments to consider tax and levy reliefs, and suspension of annual licences in order to keep the industry from deteriorating further leading to hotels closing.

He said despite operating for only five months with very minimal business last year, the hotels still paid the full annual licence fees.

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