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Pandemic costs jobs, revenues in travel sector

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-07-13 09:39

The travel industry in Africa, like the rest of the world, has taken a severe blow due to the coronavirus pandemic with a majority of the people dependent on it suffering immense losses and job cuts.

A croupier wearing a face mask and a face shield waits for clients at a roulette table at the Montecasino leisure and casino complex in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 3. [Photo/Agencies]

Agnes Mucuha, the chief executive officer at the Kenya Association of Travel Agents, says the coronavirus has hit the industry really hard with loss of jobs and revenue for travel agents.

"The beginning of the year had so much promise. Kenya had recorded an increase in international arrivals after receiving 1,444,670 arrivals between July 2019 and February 2020 as compared to 1,323,548 over the same period last year," Mucuha said.

"Over 90 percent of forward bookings from the month of April were canceled. Our industry forecast on bookings for the period ending July is also extremely depressed as travelers have opted to postpone their travel until quarter four," Mucuha added.

Christine Wanjiru had worked as a receptionist at Nairobi's Bon Voyage travel agency for ten years and according to her, she had never expected a day would come when she would unceremoniously lose her job.

Travel ban

According to Wanjiru, her travel agency closed shop in April but most employees like herself who were considered nonessential during the pandemic were laid off in March once Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, announced an international travel ban that only allowed Kenyan citizens and foreigners with valid residence permits to fly into the country.

"The communication we received from our human resource department was that we are being laid off due to lack of business but should the situation take a turn, we will be given first priority and be reabsorbed if and when the business needs us," Wanjiru said.

Having found herself jobless and with two children to feed, Wanjiru decided to get into business by using her husband's car to pick groceries at Nairobi's Wakulima Market and selling them in the estate where she lives through the same car.

"At first it was challenging. I was used to dressing up and going to the office for an 8 am to 5 pm job and selling groceries looked like I was stooping low. However having come from the aviation industry, I was aware that people in much more prestigious positions like pilots and air hostesses had lost their jobs and in times of crisis, you have to work with what you have," she added.

Challenging times

"It has been challenging trying to sell groceries from the vehicle. I had to learn fast about where to get the groceries and convincing customers to buy from you is also difficult. Before the virus, I used to have a grocer who I would regularly buy supplies from but now we are like competitors. Convincing such loyal customers to abandon their grocer and buy from you is not easy," Wanjiru says.

However, Wanjiru is hopeful she will not be in this position for long and humanity will defeat the virus.

"The world cannot be closed forever and I believe a solution for the virus will be found. Before that happens, we cannot give up hope and resign to fate. Though I am not making as much as I used to, this grocery business has been able to supplement my husband's earnings and we are able to feed our children and pay the rent despite the harsh economic times," Wanjiru said.

On July 6, Kenyatta announced that international flights in and out of Kenya will resume from August 1 while domestic flights will resume from July 15.

"We are glad that travel will resume but we may not immediately get our jobs back. Reversing the effects of the virus will take time and before a permanent solution is found, we should all be ready to continue making sacrifices in order to survive," Wanjiru said.

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