Contagion: Tourism feels the heat amid ban on travel, trade

Friday March 27 2020

The Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach on March 21. RIGHT: The New Samba Sports Bar in Mombasa on March 23. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


International flights cancelled, entertainment joints closed, public gatherings prohibited.

These are among the litany of woes that have beset the tourism sector in Coast ever since the first case of Covid-19 was announced.

The restrictions on free movement have hit Mombasa, Diani, Malindi and Lamu hard, with hotels closing doors, hundreds of workers being forced to take leave and casuals sacked.

In Lamu County, hotels have lost over Sh100 million. The acting Trade, Tourism, Investment and Culture executive, Fahima Araphat, admitted the sector was in the doldrums.

“The estimated losses over the last one month are over Sh100 million. Almost 95 per cent of the hotels here have had bookings cancelled. Some of the big hotels are planning to close down until the situation normalises,” she said.



At the Lamu Palace Hotel, about 80 per cent of bookings have been cancelled. The Lamu Palace and Pettleys Inn manager, Keziah Mumbi, said almost all the rooms were vacant with 75 per cent of staff on forced leave.

“We have about 60 employees and 45 of them are on leave. We might be forced to close down because we have not received any guest since Tuesday last week,” she said. At the Bush Gardens Seafront Hotel and Restaurant, 14 tourists from Holland and Australia cancelled their bookings this week, with the owner, Mr Ghalib Alwy, saying he lost Sh250,000.

He has reduced his staff from 12 to five. In Mombasa, the closure of nightclubs and the ban on public gatherings has killed nightlife.

All nightclubs are complying with the order. In the city centre, traffic is uncharacteristically light as people stay at home.

Operators of public service vehicles are also feeling the heat as most employees are not reporting to work.

The cancellation of international flights has negatively impacted travel. Malindi town, which depends on foreign tourists, particularly Italians, has seen a slump in business.

In Kwale County, most hotels are expected to close down in the next few days due to lack of business.


The Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa manager, Jotham Mwang’ombe, urged the government to consult stakeholders while making critical decisions affecting the industry.

“Our hotel depends on international tourists who have been affected by the flights cancellation,” he said. With the suspension of all conferences, hotels have lost a key revenue stream.

The Travellers Hotel sales manager, Bonface Wafula, said the government should consider a tax waiver to cushion the hotels.

“We are operating at 29 per cent capacity, compared to 89 per cent in March last year and the numbers are going down every day,” Mr Wafula said.

The Baobab Beach Resort manager, Sylvester Mbandi, said the hotel had experienced a 40 per cent drop in bed occupancy rates.

“We only have a handful of international guests as most have returned home and none are coming in,” he said.

Mr Mbandi said the low season has started earlier than expected and a number of guests are expected to drop to almost 20 per cent by the end of the month.

“Anybody who will have at least 20 per cent of guests by the end of the month will be extremely lucky. We have closed some of the restaurants and bars and sent staff on paid leave. I’m optimistic this is all temporary and things will soon improve,” he said.

The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) chief executive, Sam Ikwaye, said proper plans should be put in place to cushion investors.

“We have to put in place mechanisms for a quick turnaround. If the situation holds in a week’s time, we shall not be having any international tourist in our hotels,” he said.


At the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach (famously known as Pirates) and the newly refurbished Mama Ngina Waterfront Park, the usual bustling crowds are thinning and traders losing business.
“I have owned a curio shop here for the last seven years and I have never closed a single day. But it is one week since I accessed my shop because there are no customers and the government has closed the beaches,” said Ms Halima Kibirige, a curio seller at Pirates beach.

Traders who depend on the beaches to earn a living, including food sellers, boat operators and those who hire out swimming gear, have been badly affected.

Local residents fear that, if the situation does not improve in the next few days, they will be left facing hunger and poverty.

In Malindi, hundreds of hotel workers are set to be laid off as the number of tourists dwindle.

KAHC North coast region chairperson, Maureen Awuor, who is also the Ocean Beach Resort general manager, said most hotels might be forced to close business and lay off staff. “Hotels that depend on international tourists are the most affected. The situation might worsen,” she said.

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Reporting by Anthony Kitimo, Kalume Kazungu, Fadhili Fredrick and Charles Lwanga.