Machakos Country bus terminus

Stranded travellers wait to board buses at the Machakos Country bus terminus in Nairobi yesterday.

| dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

President Kenyatta urged to ease Covid-19 restrictions

What you need to know:

  • Mombasa County chief officer for Tourism and Trade, Ms Asha Abdi, expressed disappointment over the lockdown.
  • The hoteliers were banking on the Easter holidays. Some of them have now started laying off workers.

Pressure is mounting on President Kenyatta to ease some of the Covid-19 restrictions announced on Friday, as economic disruption caused by his directive caused an immediate loss of thousands of jobs just days ahead of the Easter holiday.

Hotels, restaurants, bars and transport operators were hardest hit by the fresh lockdown measures that stopped movement into and out of Nairobi and four adjoining counties in a bid to curb transmission of the deadly coronavirus disease.

Unlike lockdown measures announced early last year, which came with tax reliefs and other economic incentives, the President did not announce any reprieves in his Friday address.  

Yesterday, the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF), in an open letter, sought a review of the restrictions, which, it said, had put at risk the jobs of 1.3 million workers in the industry.

“Our outlook is that, with the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, a major lockdown will have a catastrophic impact on the tourism, travel and hospitality businesses. Massive job losses will be triggered and the industry together with its value chain will incur financial loses that will lead to insolvency and a negative impact on Kenya’s GDP.

Covid-19 admissions

“Recovery of the sector will be heavily impacted alongside a negative global perception and confidence in Kenya as a destination,” stated KTF in a letter signed by chairman Mohammed Hersi and copied to the head of public service Joseph Kinyua.

President Kenyatta announced the measures after Covid-19 admissions hit a fresh peak in the third wave of infections that have seen hospitals in the capital city run out of ICU facilities.

KTF represents seven tourism associations: the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (Kato); Kenya Association of Air Operators (Kaao); Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak); Kenya Association of Travel Agents (Kata); Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA); Ecotourism Kenya (EK); and the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC).

Commuters stranded on Nakuru-Eldoret Highway as police impound vehicles for flouting curfew

Tourism is a major contributor to Kenya’s economy accounting for 8.8 per cent of GDP and contributing approximately Sh296 billion to the exchequer as per industry estimates. 

“It is regrettable that, after so much effort to offer safe services, the lockdown has returned. Like many others, we’re feeling the weight of the virus,” said Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya chairman Gordon Mutugi, while calling for vaccinations to be ramped up.

Public service vehicle operators, who normally record brisk business during the Easter holiday as millions of urban dwellers move to their rural homes, are also feeling the pinch of the fresh lockdown.

President Kenyatta’s Friday directive means Kenyans will spend their second Easter celebrations under lockdown, exacting huge losses on transporters and tour operators, who will have to deal with multiple cancellations.

Thronged bus termini

With schools closed, Kenyans had scheduled vacations and travel, before the restrictions scuttled their plans.

Thousands of Kenyans yesterday thronged bus termini, railway stations and airports in a last-minute dash to beat the 48-hour window issued by government before a ban on movement into and out of the restricted areas is effected ends today.

Matatu Owners Association (MOA) chairman Simon Kimutai said the new directive was like “adding insult to injury” to a sector that is already ailing from last year’s directive that has seen matatus carry only 60 per cent of their capacity. He added that the transport sector is still battling steep fuel price increases.

“The business is proving unsustainable. We can’t meet our running costs and we’re eating into our investments. Our capital is dwindling every day,” said Mr Kimutai. He called for the transport industry to be exempted from the punitive measures.

Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua said at least 50,000 of its members will be affected by the lockdown.

“We will be greatly affected as the routes have been shortened and owners will no longer pay the usual amount of money to crew. We are looking at 10,000 PSVs being affected and each has between four and five workers,” Mr Mbugua said.

Lockdown - Kenyans travelling upcountry rush to board buses at Machakos Country Bus station

The government, he said, should have stuck to strict law enforcement instead of locking down the economic hub of the country.

Federation of Kenya Employers executive director Jacqueline Mugo said the impact of the fresh lockdown “will be immediate, significant and far-reaching.”

Led to confusion

“Businesses remain highly vulnerable in the absence of any considerations or support put in place by the government to cushion them. The extent and complexity of the measures has led to confusion and operational difficulties,” she said.

But it is the tourism and transport sector that is reeling under the weight of the restrictions.  From the Coast to Naivasha, Masai Mara to the Western tourism circuit, hotels have reported massive cancellations. KTF has appealed for special passes to salvage the industry.

Mr Hersi said the containment measures were announced with little lead time, adding that there are several visitors already in the country with others arriving over the next few days or weeks for confirmed safaris and tours.

“The recent containment measures has thrown the entire industry into disarray,” Mr Hersi said in the statement addressed to interior CS Fred Matiang’i.

On domestic tourists, Mr Hersi said the market has offered an invaluable lifeline to most establishments during the slow return of international tourists.

Tour operators want domestic tourists to be allowed to move freely across the country provided they produce negative rapid antigen tests within 96 hours.

“The antigen test is a quick test that will help us enable travel to resume without throwing caution to the wind. It will also help the government get more tests done per day,” he argued.

At the coast, hotels have been left in disarray with more than 50 meetings scheduled for next week cancelled abruptly.

Hoteliers said they had received 100 per cent cancellations.

International guests

The hoteliers were banking on the Easter holidays. Some of them have now started laying off workers.

KAHC Coast Executive Sam Ikwaye said the region will shut down business till further notice because it primarily depends on Nairobi for the arrival of international guests.

“The lifeline of a destination is accessibility,” he said, adding that they were hoping to reap from the Easter projections.

“Hotels had stocked up for Easter, hired more staff, and committed resources. But now, Easter won’t happen, and this leaves them in a very bad position,” Dr Ikwaye sasid, adding that the industry needs a stimulus bailout plan to cushion ahead of the next peak in August.

Mombasa County chief officer for Tourism and Trade, Ms Asha Abdi, expressed disappointment over the lockdown.

“We were expecting a lot of tourists during the holidays. We had taken all the precautionary measures including monitoring of the hotels to ensure that they adhere to the Ministry of Health protocols,” she said.

Ms Abdi urged the government to allow travel to the tourism destinations, but with authenticated coronavirus negative certification.

“The decision has affected the sector most hotels have received cancellation at a time when the industry was picking up.

“As a county, we had even put off all events that could cause any spike and that is why we are recovering,” she added.


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