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Tourism players in Kilifi say coronavirus hurting bookings

Monday March 2 2020

Tourists Malindi, Kilifi County

Tourists at Jacaranda beach resort in Malindi, Kilifi County. Tourism players in Kilifi have expressed fears of losing businesses in the coming weeks following the worldwide spread of the deadly coronavirus. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

CHARLES LWANGA
By CHARLES LWANGA
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Tourism players in Kilifi have expressed fears of losing business in the coming weeks following the worldwide spread of the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) that has caused loss of lives since it was first reported in China.

The Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association (KHCA) North Coast chairperson Maureen Awuor, who is also the Ocean Beach Resort general manager, said Malindi, being “a little Italy in Kenya”, has been adversely affected by the outbreak.

Italy is one of the countries that have been affected by the disease.

''In the coming weeks, we might see a decrease in bookings to Malindi and Watamu resorts due to fears of contracting the disease,'' she told journalists in Malindi.

CANCELLATIONS

Already, some hotels have begun receiving cancellations and postponements of travel dates from Europe, especially from Italy.

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At the same time, Ms Awuor said they are satisfied with the government’s preparedness for handling the deadly virus.

''The government is ready and we are optimistic this will attract more tourists to visit our country. Safety measures have been put in place at airports and hospitals equipped to test for coronavirus,'' she said.

Currently, most hotels in Malindi and Watamu still have about 50 to 70 per cent bed occupancy since the high tourism peak season began around July last year.

Ms Awuor said they have already been told to inform their clients to visit medical facilities if one exhibits symptoms of the virus.

EXAGGERATED

At the sane time, some stakeholders in Malindi and Watamu said they feel the coronavirus issue has been exaggerated, leading to a worldwide panic.

At the Seven Islands Resort in Watamu, general manager Roberto Macri said a group of 160 people who had booked with the hotel this week have rescheduled their visit.

''We are receiving cancellations because of the reports that coronavirus has spread and killed too many people. We feel this has been exaggerated,'' he said.

Mr Daniele Tirito, the general manager of Jacaranda Beach Resort in Watamu, said they fear losing more business if Kenya copies other countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde, Israel and closes its borders to avoid spread of the disease.

“Closing borders and airports is not a solution since people must travel and do business,” he said.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya said tourism is a delicate industry which has employed millions of people and the way the government handles the situation will build or destroy it.

SAFETY MEASURES

“The government needs to put in place safety measures at border points, airports and also sea ports to avoid spread of the disease which has caused deaths of thousands of people,” he said.

Mr Baya said the tourism industry in Malindi and Watamu depends largely on the Italian market and there is a need to assure the world that Kenya has taken adequate measures to prevent spread of the virus to avoid losing tourists.

“Once we lose visitors, thousands of youths in Kilifi and the Coast region will be rendered jobless and the government should move fast to avoid creating such a situation,” he said.

Tourism stakeholders are also optimistic of a booming business this year after a leading American online company Airbnb, which markets private homestays for tourism experiences, listed Malindi among the top 20 best destinations to visit this year.