Players in the tourism industry are counting on peace during the 2022 electioneering to recover from the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.
They say peace is key to the revival of tourism before, during and after the August 2022 General Election, hence politicians should help maintain stability.
The sector made a rebound towards the year end as strict containment measures by the government, including travel restrictions, lockdowns, curfews and air border shutdowns, were lifted.
In interviews with the Daily Nation, stakeholders say heightened uncertainty due to cut-throat political competitions often hurts tourism, which is one of Kenya’s economic mainstays.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers official, Dr Sam Ikwaye, said political uncertainties have, in most cases, interfered with tourism peak seasons.
He said tourism thrives on a peaceful and tranquil environment. “We have seen bad signs many months before the polls. We are cautioning, preparing and hoping that the President, in his legacy, will ensure we have a smooth transition and we manage any situation that could turn ugly and destroy what we have built over time. We hope the political class will be contained earlier, the signs are not very good,” Dr Ikwaye said.
The last two years have been the most devastating period in the tourism sector given the Covid-19 crisis that led to a slump in the international market that Kenya has religiously relied on.
The situation forced hoteliers to shut down their operations and lay off employees as a result of the dwindling fortunes. It was so bad that from 14 charter planes landing at the Moi International Airport, only five still operate, with the uncertainty forcing hoteliers to design special packages to woo the domestic market that has given the sector a lifeline.
With good infrastructure, including the standard gauge railway, Mombasa-Nairobi highway and the Sh350 million world-class cruise ship terminal at the Port of Mombasa, hoteliers are optimistic of a rebound in 2022.
Coast’s hotel sector has around 40,000-bed occupancy and is the region’s economic lifeline, directly employing about12,800 workers. But currently, half of the workforce is on 70 per cent pay, while some are on unpaid leave.
This December, hotels in the region are enjoying around 90 per cent bed occupancy, with most tourists being locals. For the Christmas holidays, hotels are fully booked. The Tourism Finance Corporation allocated the region Sh1.8 billion out of the Sh3 billion state kitty but only a few hotels qualified for the loans, which were accessed at an interest rate of five per cent. Borrowers will start repaying after one year and will run for ten years.
Hoteliers heavily invested in the Covid-19 health and safety regulations to adhere to the government protocol, including social distancing, masking and setting up sanitising booths. Some hotels were turned into isolation facilities to stay afloat.
At Pride Inn Group of Hotels, managing director Husnain Noorani utilised the two-year lull due to Covid to upgrade and thoroughly clean all his seven facilities across Kenya.
“Once we had studied the entire Covid-19 patterns, we chose to ensure the safety regulations in all our hotels. We are very stringent with the protocols. We know the importance tourism plays in our country,” he told the Daily Nation.
Players led by Kenya Coast Tourism Association CEO Julius Owino, Taita Hills and Salt Lick Safaris Lodge general manager Willie Mwadilo lamented the directive barring unvaccinated revellers from accessing hotels.