EDITORIAL: Tourism bailout is crucial

Tuesday June 30 2020

The tourism sector has suffered the harshest blow from the Covid-19 pandemic that has devastated the economy. The grounding of passenger flights in a bid to curb the spread of the virus was when the rain started beating it with deadly ferocity. With no foreign tourists arriving, hotels have been reduced to ghost premises. Also affected are tourism-related businesses, including transport. In Coast, the little curio and other handicraft businesses popular with tourists have been wiped out.

Domestic tourism remains insignificant in terms of numbers and is mostly seasonal. But even this is impossible with the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, which are pivotal in the travel industry. Massive layoffs by hotels have not spared the upcountry attractions. With hotels and lodges shut, the captivating annual wildebeest migration, a major global tourist attraction, has been left to the wild animals.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala says the industry has lost Sh80 billion with 1.6 million jobs at risk as the industry lost 60-80 per cent of its sales. In February, there were 163,000 tourist arrivals but, since the lockdown in mid-March, none. However, experts expect the country to emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Indeed, the sector is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s Sh53 billion stimulus package. The government is giving hotels and related establishments soft loans. A total of Sh2 billion will be spent on renovating facilities and restructuring businesses. The sector will hire 5,500 community scouts for the Kenya Wildlife Service at a cost of Sh1 billion and 160 community conservancies supported to the tune of Sh1 billion.

As the strict guidelines are relaxed, the industry must begin to fashion its recovery programme.