Iten athletes' hotel loses Corona race as virus pounds sports world
By Stephen Rutto | April 7th 2020
An iconic hotel that has been home to foreign athletes and paragliders for more than a decade is now on the verge of collapse as Covid-19 continues to ravage the sports industry.
Overlooking the scenic Kerio Valley, Kerio View (KV) Resort is usually a hive of activity, this time of the year, as athletes and adrenaline junks throng the high altitude town of Iten for training.
However, a red banner partially covers the signpost directing potential customers at the corner of the road leading to the resort.
“KV closed temporarily,” reads the banner inscribed in bold letters.
A short walk down the murram road from the junction we arrive at the hotel’s gate where we are met by the owner Jean-Paul Fourier.
Fourier, a Belgian retiree, put up the hotel more than a decade ago.
Kerio View hosted at least 30 athletes, including foreigners, daily before travel restrictions by various governments around the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, for the last 20 years, there has been growing focus on sports tourism globally, involving travel for purposes of watching sports events, active participation in sports or simply to gaze at sports facilities infrastructure.
Iten town provides an ideal environment for athletics to train due to its high altitude and has produced many world-beaters.
Over the years, some of the best runners across the world have trained in the region.
They include Britain’s Mo Farah, previous world women’s marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe (whose record was broken by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei), 2012 Olympics 800m silver medallist Nijel Amos and New Zealand twins Zane and Jake Robertson.
Swiss Jullien Wanders, who is the current the European record for the half marathon with a time of 59:13, had until recently also been living and training in the North Rift for the past four years.
Apart from the elite runners, hundreds of social runners also visit the country and train with Kenyan world champions as sports tourists.
During our visit last week, the hotel was deserted, with only a few employees on duty to ensure that the establishment stays in shape.
“I am on my way to the bank to withdraw some little money from back home. As you can see, we have closed,” said Fourier.
“I am now trying to spruce up the hotel with the hope that things will be better soon. I have released my employees, but I have to pay half their salaries even when the hotel is not operating.”
He said this was the second time the hotel had been shut down, in its 10-year history. In 2012, it was temporarily closed for Christmas.
The hotelier said he now depends on his savings to keep going as the world tries to weather the coronavirus storm. He said he cannot travel back home to Belgium because of the travel restrictions, with his country also hard hit by the pandemic.
“This is a global pandemic, and I feel there is nothing we can do. Our visitors cancelled all their bookings, forcing us to close officially on March 20. My workers are now working on three-week shifts,” said the hotelier.
“I have asked them to use the stay-at-home period to look for the best recipes so that we can make things better after this pandemic.”
Fourier said there were only two guests at the time, who are stranded because of the travel restrictions.
“It is a couple that had travelled to Iten to train for the 2020 Olympics, but they can’t travel back to their countries,” he said.
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