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Tourism in Kenya gradually recovering

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-06-28 09:18

Maasai women work at a village nearby Selenkay Conservancy, a community-owned conservation area operated by a private company, in Amboseli, Kenya, on Wednesday. Tourists are returning to the camp's accommodations, after it was closed due to COVID-19. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP

Kenya's pillar sector, tourism, is gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic slump, as the number of visitors to various tourism destinations, especially local travelers, continues to increase.

According to the Kenya Tourism Federation, an umbrella body representing eight associations in the tourism sector, the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions has contributed significantly to attracting more domestic, regional and international tourists.

Miriam Mbithe is among the many Kenyans who had an opportunity to visit various tourism sites after the government relaxed the remaining restrictions in March, including the requirement that masks be worn in public places.

Mbithe traveled to the coastal city of Mombasa in April as part of a group of 50 children and 10 adults.

"There were many local tourists on beaches and at other sites, but the number of international visitors was very low," she said.

Chris Musau, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, confirmed that business was picking up in the hospitality sector.

He said the sector was focusing on building a resilient local market to help the tourism industry survive challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tour operators are experiencing an average of 50 percent improvement in their business, with positive projections for the rest of the year and 2023, said Fred Kaigua, CEO of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators.

"There are a lot of positive vibes from the market, and the bookings and inquiries also look very positive," he said.

"There is a projection for full recovery by 2024, but it could probably come even sooner, by next year, if we continue at the same pace," Kaigua added.

Susan Ongalo, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Federation, said progress in Kenya's tourism sector has been positive since the beginning of this year, and most market players remain optimistic about its full recovery.

"The situation keeps getting better with each passing day," she said.

Kenya's tourism revenue amounted to $1.25 billion last year, an indication that the sector is gradually recovering, Ongalo said. Total tourism revenue in 2020 was $781 million, which was a huge drop from $1.4 billion in 2019, she added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on Kenya's tourism industry.

"About 1.2 million full-time equivalent employees ... were laid off, while approximately $1.3 billion in labor income was lost," she said, citing the country's Annual Tourism Sector Performance Report 2021.

The Kenyan government has formed the National Tourism Risk and Crisis Management Committee to tackle the crisis and respond to related matters in the industry, Ongalo said.

She also said the government is encouraging COVID-19 vaccination for domestic and foreign tourists.

The government is also determined to improve and promote the sector, as demonstrated in the recently launched Tourism Strategy Realignment, described as "a new vision for Kenya's tourism sector", Ongalo said.

Jackson Kalla, the nation's chief administrative secretary for labor and social protection, said that with a good marketing strategy and advertising, the sector should be able to pick up very quickly and even double its revenue.

He said the government will work with all partners in the tourism sector and the labor industry for measures to ensure that the recovery continues.

Ongalo, of the Kenya Tourism Federation, said some enterprises in the sector are still struggling.

The uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic are hampering full recovery, with visitors lacking the confidence to travel due to fear of contracting the virus, she said.

A recent rebound of COVID-19 cases also forced the Kenyan government to reinstate some measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks in places such as offices and supermarkets.

Stephen Ogenga, the director general of the National Industry Training Authority, said Kenya's tourism sector faces employment challenges that need to be addressed.

"Positions available within the sector are not attractive enough, in terms of wages, career progression and benefits, for trainees to start a career in tourism," he said. This has resulted in high staff turnover, and enterprises are struggling to replace staff members, particularly the most qualified workers, he said.

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