It has been a rollercoaster of sorts for the global tourism industry since the onset of Covid-19 two years ago. The industry lost $2.2 trillion, over a billion travellers, and more than 100 million jobs.
In Kenya, top hotels, lodges, national parks and reserves became ghost locations as visitors kept off as global travel restrictions hit. Hotel closures became the order of the day, sending thousands of workers home.
But there has been a silver lining with the tourism ministry anticipating over a million international arrivals, earning the country Sh172.9 billion, up from Sh146.5 billion in 2021.
Likewise, a good number of hospitality establishments have since opened shop and are poised for good business this holiday season.
We hereby look at comeback kids for 2022.
The international tourism gem was among the worst affected by the Covid-induced closures. Simply known as the Mara, this was one destination that saw tourism earnings plummet to the lowest. Conservation programmes ground to a halt with several conservancies having to appeal for funds from their international friends. Here is a picture of what t takes to conserve a small part of the Mara ecosystem.
For example, Gamewatchers Safaris has leased 42,500 acres at a cost to us of more than $863,000 a year. This amount is paid out in rent to hundreds of Maasai families. In addition, the company has on its payroll 247 employees within the conservancies and camps drawn from the local Maasai community.
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The company pays over $600,000 in wages, and together with land rents, the bill comes to nearly $1.5 million. The figure excludes additional costs used to manage the conservancies and fund community projects.
To plug the hole left by the loss of tourists, Gamewatchers Safaris came up with the “Adopt-an-Acre” plan where contributors could adopt an acre of land in the conservancy for a year. The funds helped to pay staff wages before the camps reopened.
“This initiative really helped a lot,” says Mohanjeet Brar, managing director at Gamewatchers. Things have bounced back to pre-covid levels with some camps reporting record booking.” Indeed, no obituaries for the Mara yet.
The region, like the Mar, hosts some of the largest numbers of wildlife in the country. Game viewing is made all the more spectacular by the undulating hills, plains, luggas and kopjes. Unlike other wildlife hotspots, the region practices low-impact tourism where numbers are kept small but with high monetary receipts.
But the pandemic halted all these with animals roaming the entire expanse with no humans in sight, save for the staff manning the high-end lodges. Take the Lewa-based Sirikoi Lodge for example. The nine-roomed lodge was voted as the best resort in the world during the 2019 Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards, or just before Covid hit the shores. Sirikoi oozes opulence with spacious and tastefully designed rooms, unique décor touches coupled with big Victorian bathtubs, fireplaces and a private deck.
A hotel manager we interviewed on the backdrop of travel restrictions in 2020 said hyenas, baboons and vervet monkeys had become the ‘regulars’ in the lodge. “The animals have noticed the absence of humans. We rarely saw hyenas around but I recently saw one pass by my office. We have had no guest since mid-March yet we still have to pay for licences, land leases, and insurance not to mention the loss of funds for conservation,” the manager told us.
The lack of tourists especially in 2020 dented the conservation model with local communities that rely on tourism proceeds counting their losses. Fortunately, the covid jitters have died off with guests returning to the northern circuit. Sadly, the region is yet to recover from one of the worst droughts ever to hit the region.
It has been a rough ride for hotels in Kenya since 2020. Many closed shop with little hope of reopening. But some giants rebound.
Fairmont The Norfolk
Operating in Kenya since 1904, this is one of Kenya’s oldest hotels. It was a popular haunt for settlers who used it as their base to hunt game that was abundant in the area.
It was a civilisation in the bush. Over the years, the hotel’s have welcomed some of the world’s superstars.