The number of hotel workers sent home due to the slump in tourism is now more than 7,500 after about 3,000 were sacked in the past week.
The slow business associated with the traditional low tourist season was compounded by travel advisories which were recently issued by the United Kingdom, the US, France and Australia.
According to the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Kilifi county branch chairman Philip Chai, about 5,000 workers were laid off in Malindi and Watamu resort towns as a result of the low season and the travel warnings.
Many of the workers, he said, were unlikely to receive their May salaries because many hotels in the two towns had no visitors. Most of those sent home were either casual labourers and those on contract.
“The tourism sector in Malindi and Watamu towns is on its knees due to the low season and the recent advisories which were issued by the Western countries,” he said. “International tourists are hard to come by,” he lamented.
The sector, he added, was facing a turbulent period since most of the hotels in Malindi depend on the Italian tourist source market. However, he expected the hotels to re-open between mid-July and October depending on the resumption of Italian charter flights.
KAHC Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye said of the 30 hotels in Kilifi County affiliated to the association, less than 10 remain open and they have a bed occupancy of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Meetings in hotels
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the ban prohibiting civil servants from holding meetings in hotels.
He also said private companies would get tax relief on the money they spend on staff holidays. The measures were meant to help the hotels overcome the challenges posed by the downturn in tourism.
Kenya has also embarked on an aggressive online marketing campaign to lure more tourists from various parts of the world, including China, and to counter the negative publicity generated by the advisories and recent grenade attacks targeting Mombasa.
Mr Ikwaye Monday said more than 1,000 hotel workers in Mombasa had also been rendered jobless.
“Some hotels in Mombasa have sent home casuals and workers on contracts,” he said. “The hotels are depending on conferencing. Most have occupancy of between 20 and 30 per cent.”
Kwale County tourism executive Adam Sheikh said about 1,500 hotel workers in the South Coast had been declared redundant due to the low season and the evacuation of hundreds of British tourists after the travel warnings.
He said that most of the hotels in Diani were empty after some British tourists cut short their holiday following the travel advisories from their Foreign Office.
“Hotel occupancy in the South Coast dropped from 30 per cent to 10 per cent following the travel advisories which were issued by the Western countries,” he said. “Some hotels had already closed down due to the low season.”
Hundreds of small-scale businesspeople who depended on the sector for their livelihoods have also been affected since they cannot supply items like poultry products, beef, vegetables, fruits and milk to the establishments which have either closed or scaled down their operations.
Others hit hard by the tourism slump, he said, include curio dealers, tour firms, taxi drivers and entertainers.
Players in the industry expressed hope that the interventions announced by President Kenyatta will help in reviving the sector and shoring up business until the high season later in the year.