By Antony Mutunga
What was slowly evolving into a good year for the tourism sector has crumbled yet again following the move by the Kenyan government to impose new measures to slow the spread of a third wave of the coronavirus. Curfews, lockdowns in counties such as Nairobi, Machakos, and Kajiado as well as a halt to domestic flights are but a number of these new measures.
With domestic flights grounded, the tourism sector has taken a major hit as it loses one of its biggest driving forces. Even as the government made a turnaround to allow international flights, it is likely that this drip-effort may not yield much because tourism depends on international visitors being able to proceed to their inward destinations smoothly.
Following hot on the heels of a United Kingdom travel advisory that blacklisted Kenya for its nationals, matters seem to have taken a turn for the worse as the United States followed with a level-four travel advisory, the highest level, urging US citizens not to travel because of a greater likelihood of life-threatening risks, including COVID-19, in Kenya. The US cited the health risks of COVID and other risks such as crime, terrorism, and kidnappings.
The move by the US government came days after the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued their own Level 4 travel notice for Kenya. According to the health agency, the transmission of COVID-19 in Kenya is accelerating rapidly and the country “does not have adequate pieces of equipment in terms of COVID-19 bed space and life-saving oxygen to cover the population.”
When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the newest measures, Kenya’s COVID-19 infections had increased from 2 percent to 22 percent between January and March, with Nairobi accounting for nearly 60 percent of all cases. And even though the government has started targeted vaccination, we are a long way from achieving mass vaccination.
The travel and tourism industry is a fickle sector that can easily be disrupted by any form of upheaval or risk like disease epidemic or pandemic. Kenya is a resource poor developing country. Thus, travel and tourism industry is the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs for the Kenyan economy.
The country depends heavily on the sector as a source of foreign exchange, job creation and revenue. Because the government hasn’t done much to mitigate the effect of COVID on this critical sector, it risks total collapse as travellers are scared to make bookings until this infection subsides. And when recovery does begin, it will be extremely gradual.