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Harness domestic tourism to save limping sector

By Ray Juma | August 23rd 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The coronavirus has ravaged virtually every crucial sector of the economy. Worldwide, countries are struggling to mitigate its effects amid a surge in daily infections.

With the easing of restrictions on domestic travel in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta should encourage Kenyans to take an active role in the delicate process of restarting the economy.

Not only is it finally safe for us to go on a vacation, thanks to the numerous protective measures the hospitality sector has put in place, it is also vital if we want to see this key pillar of our economy recover.

After months of total lockdown, tourism was among the sectors hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The government’s decision to lift restrictions on movement in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as numerous other locations around the country, was partly to serve the most immediate economic needs of tourism workers. With holiday bookings and indeed travelling more generally coming to a halt, such workers were out of a job almost overnight.

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Forced to live on their limited savings, every day brought them closer to poverty. As tourism had already lost more than 50 per cent of its expected revenues this year, saving the sector will rely on all of us who will need to bolster it in the coming weeks and months.

“I want to take this opportunity to encourage every single Kenyan to take advantage and to travel… You can travel, you can move,” the President said early August, emphasising the role all of us can play in restarting the economy. It is finally safe to travel, thanks to the government’s preparatory actions taken significantly before announcing the reopening up of the country. As Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala reported, all service providers in the country’s hospitality sector are required to follow stringent policies while hosting guests. These will ensure all are safe, considering that we have not yet completely defeated the coronavirus enemy.

Multiple airlines, including British Airways, Air France and Emirates, already resumed their bi-weekly services to Nairobi. They have committed to paying careful attention to the health screening of their passengers, as well as their safety during flights and at the airport.

Health protocols

Thanks to adopting the global health and hygiene protocols, Kenya was among the first to be awarded the Safe Travel Stamp by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

It is important that Kenyans book vacations and spend their money domestically. As numerous foreign countries are just emerging from the depths of the pandemic, it will most likely take some time until people’s trust in international travelling is restored. Until then, it is imperative that all of us whose budget allows for it, spend their holiday in Kenya.

Importantly, there are booking opportunities across the whole country. At the behest of the government, all national parks reduced their entry fees by 50 per cent, which is a significant concession during the current period of the year famous for the wildebeest migration.

Most hotels and attractions are also offering bargain deals in an effort to spur bookings. From the Ruma National Park in Nyanza Province, through various trails around Nairobi, to the Malindi National Park in southeast Kenya, hoteliers and other businesses for leisure are finally open to us.

After weeks of being confined at home for all non-work-related activities, many of us feel the need to venture out to the great outdoors and breathe some fresh air. Far more than just a desire for a vacation, this is indeed a psychological need. By travelling inside Kenya, we do not only get a well-deserved break after this stressful period of seclusion.

By increasing the volume of travel in Kenya, we will be contributing to the increase of the economic productivity of the country, indirectly boosting other sectors as well.

Tourism contributes approximately 10 per cent of our GDP. It is a sector of high importance in the current plans to put Kenya back on the path of economic growth.

With necessary health safety measures in place, the government has invited us to partake in these important efforts to restart our economy. Every Kenyan should heed this call.

-The writers is a community development expert


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