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Western Kenya hospitality sector mulls post Covid-19 recovery plan

By Noven Owiti
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
Oscar Ochola (left), Sales and Marketing Manager Victoria Comfort Hotel, Kisumu and Busia Tourism Association chief executive, Duncan Kubasu. Photo/PD/NOVEN OWITI
In summary
    • Many facilities are owned debts running into millions of shillings, which, if paid now, could enable them start-up, and boost their operations.
    • Hotels servicing loans with different banks will be seeking for a deferment up to next year.

The hospitality sector in Western Kenya is positioning itself to regain growth later this year in the aftermath of coronavirus pandemic.

Travelwise established that industry players are already devising strategies that could see business pick up steadily once the epidemic is finally phased-out.

They, however, anticipate low business volumes in the early stages of the pandemic containment response. 

The region has borne the brunt of the virus effects on the hospitality businesses that has seen indefinite closure of nearly all hotels and suspension of social events after government directives that required them to suspend business in containment measure to curb the virus spread.

Some facilities have opted to send their staff on unpaid leave while others have settled on pay-cut formulae to retain their staffers.

Conferences and seminars 

The region’s hotels sector largely depends on conferences and seminars to stay afloat, which stopped after the government banned all social gatherings.

Busia Tourism Association chief executive Dancun Kubasu says they will be largely relying on the goodwill and support from both national and county governments to get back to business following the shakeup.

“Among immediate mitigation measures the hoteliers plan to undertake include asking the devolved units to consider waivers of certain levies until their businesses recover,” he said. 

He said many hotels have exhausted their reserves, hence will struggle to meet the cost of operation fees

“We will be petitioning county and national governments to pay pending bills owed to the hotels to help them jumpstart and sustain their operations,” he said.

Bank loans 

Kubasu regrets that a number of the facilities are owed debts running into millions of shillings, which, if paid now, could enable them start-up, and boost operations.

“We will also make an appeal to government agencies for help in marketing local hotels.

Most local hotels depended on the flow of foreign travellers who may take time in visiting,” he says. 

The western Kenya hoteliers are also asking the county and national governments to set up hotels business recovery fund to help the facilities businesses get back to their feet.

“We  expect county governments to promote us by holding seminars, meetings and conferences within the region to boost recovery plan,” says Kubasu, who is also Farmview Hotel (Busia town) public relations and marketing boss. 

Pending bills 

Hotels servicing loans with different banks will be seeking for a deferment of up to sometime next year when business takes shape following the recent presidential directive.

“Hoteliers are grappling with the burden of keeping their employees in the middle of the ripple effects caused by the pandemic,” says Kubasu. 

The hospitality industry is also seeking exemptions from penalties incurred due to delays in paying utility bills such as electricity and water during the pandemic.

Oscar Ochola, Kisumu’s Victoria Comfort Hotel sales and marketing manager says the facility will engage other sales representatives in efforts to try remarket their products and regain lost business.

“We are hoping to cash in on conference business particularly those convened by health sector players to take review on the pandemic effects and plan for future strategies.  We also expect heath seminars after the crisis is over,” says Ochola.

Capacity building 

Currently, he says, a number of the employees are on normal annual leave. Management is contemplating giving staff unpaid leave by June if the situation persists.

“We will recall our staff gradually depending on how business picks up from the virus effects.

If things don’t go as planned we may think of sending most of them on unpaid leave,” says Ochola.

Peter Shaita, Kabarma Hotel manager in Bungoma county, similarly says the facility will embark on vigorous marketing as it tries to recapture better business performance.

“In our dynamic marketing plan, we anticipate to draw up good business, with conferences and accommodations as key targets,” he says. 

The sector business he says is likely to remain in dwindling mode for longer period after resumption.

Hoteliers in Bungoma intend to lobby for prompt payment  of pending bills by the county government for services rendered to sustainably run their establishments.

“We will also organise for more capacity building trainings for staffs to strengthen their skills ahead of reopening,” says Shaita.