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Tourism players anticipate gradual growth as skies re-open

By Harriet James
Thursday, July 30th, 2020
KTDGA national chairman Nicholas Kiritu, Villa Rosa Kempinski’s Cluster general manager Roberto Simone and Zebra Plains camp GM Alfred Korir. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James @harriet86jim

After close to four months of suspension, the tourism sector is waiting in anticipation for the resumption of international flights, which shall begin this week from August 1.

According to President Uhuru Kenyatta, measures to ease initial restrictions put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 will be important to cushion the country from further economic effects.

Already KLM, British Airways and Air France have indicated that they will resume flights from August.

While British Airways will operate four weekly flights, KLM will begin flying on the August 3 and will offer four weekly flights subject to regulatory approvals.

Air France too has stated that its scheduled flights will begin with a single flight to Paris each Friday.

Kenya Airways too has announced plans to resume its flights. However, it will not fly to United States of America and China until October 1, 2020.

KQ will fly twice a day to Addis Ababa, Kigali and Dar es Salaam and thrice a week to Zanzibar.

Moreover, it will fly thrice to Mumbai, London as well as five weekly flights to Dubai with reduced frequencies on the Amsterdam, Paris and London routes. 

National Chairman of the Kenya Tour Driver Guides Association (KTDGA), Nicholas Kiritu welcomes this move and sees it as an opportunity for the tourism business to thrive. 

“The international market plays a big role in the tourism sector in Kenya. The tour guides will finally have a chance to resume doing what they love most.

Such a move gives the tour operators and guides a bigger platform to take tourists around the country at any time of the week or month,” he says.

While he appreciates the role of domestic market, he agrees that the international market plays a bigger role in supporting tourism. 

 Minimal improvement

“Tour guides have really been affected by the pandemic due to lack of travel activities to the various destinations in the country by local and international tourists,“ he says.

Kiritu notes that tourism was hit hard as early as February when tourists started cancelling their travel plans, urging the government to ensure proper screening at the Airport and for industry players to follow the protocols and guidelines put in place to avoid infections. 

Cluster General Manager of Villa Rosa Kempinski ,Roberto Simone believes that the resumption of the flights will have a big impact on the psyche of people, a positive aspect for business at this moment when there is a lot of gloom. 

“One of the things that saddened us was seeing other businesses in the industry collapsing. In my view, this is not healthy for Nairobi.

We are glad to hear that some hotels are opening as it will spur supply and it is also a signal to international travellers that there are protocols in place across the hotels and that Nairobi is safe for travel,” he notes. 

While the domestic market is crucial for the industry to survive, for city hotels such as Kempinski or Tamarind Tree, 80 per cent of their guests are international visitors. 

The massive loss of jobs in the country has lessened the disposable income among the middle class who comprises a large share of domestic tourists.

Simone believes that this will alter their travel patterns making international travel significant for the survival of the industry. 

In readiness for international travellers, Kempinski is opening its Mara property this week.

However, Simone believes that there will be slow progress in the sector despite the resumption of international flights.

 “One of the markets for Kenya corporate world is in South Africa and it’s not opening up till February or the end of this year. 

Middle East is the second one followed by Europe. If these are not flying here, then the international flights will have no effect to our business,” he says. 

According to visa information site, schengenVisaInfo.com, visitors from Kenya are banned from entering 31 European countries.

Only citizens from 14 countries will be allowed to enter the countries and Kenya is not among them. 

The United States still remains Kenya’s largest source of Western tourism, followed by the United Kingdom (UK), India, China, Germany, France and Italy. 

 “I don’t think it will make any significant improvement in tourism numbers at the moment.

This is because a lot of international tourists are still scared of travels. However, it will bring the much needed confidence in the sector.

We will begin seeing good numbers maybe by December,” notes travel expert and General Manager of Tamarind Hotel, John Musau.

Slow progress

Though prepared to meet the international guests, Alfred Korir, General Manager ,Zebra Plains camp believes that it will still take time before the sector booms. 

“The high spenders are travellers over 50 years and these are the people who are at a higher risk of getting the virus.

This means that even with the opening up, this market is already lost. They will wait for when it’s safe for them to travel or when the vaccine has been found,” he says.

Additionally, Korir observes that millennials will take time before travelling owing to loss of jobs and income.  

Though leisure travel will later pick up owing to digital fatigue, Simone believes that the number of corporate travel will minimize. 

 “Less corporate travel will impact the airlines which will have a direct impact on the flight charges and this will minimize arrivals.

This will also mean the end of the mass traveler as the tickets will be more expensive,” he says.

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