Tour operators are appealing for special passes to save the industry from collapse barely three days after President Uhuru Kenyatta locked down five counties to contain coronavirus infections in the country.
Under the Kenya Tourism Federation, an association of all tourism players including air operators, hotelkeepers and caterers, travel agents and hotel owners, the stakeholders want the cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government Dr Fred Matiang’i and his Tourim and Wildlife counterpart Najib Balala to allow them to have special passes for tourists to save the industry that is reeling from the pandemic.
KTF chairman Mr Mohammed Hersi in a statement Sunday said the containment measures were announced with very little lead time, adding that there are visitors already in the country with others expected to arrive over the next few days and weeks for confirmed safaris and tours.
“The recent containment measures have thrown the entire industry into disarray,” said Mr Hersi in the statement.
He added that the curtailed movement out of the five counties under lockdown including Kenya’s main hub, Nairobi, will adversely impact on tourist movement across the country.
“Tourist transportation is by way of Tourist Service Vehicles (TSV) which are very distinct from the PSV used for matatu operations. Tourist movements should be accorded special consideration with all tourists currently in the country being facilitated and allowed to complete their safaris as planned. This can be clearly monitored and allowed for those official and accredited members of Kenya Association of Tourism Operators,” said Mr Hersi.
Other proposals include giving special considerations for future bookings and allowing the movement of tourists using commercial scheduled domestic air services connecting passengers to various tourist destinations to safeguard the travel, tourism and hospitality establishment.
The operators are also proposing priority vaccination to be given to the tourism, travel and hospitality frontline workers.
The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport remains open to international travelers, but without the ability to leave Nairobi, few tourists would opt to come to Kenya.
The federation requested that international guests possessing a PCR Covid19 negative certificate secured 96 hours prior to arrival should be allowed to tour the country both by road and flight.
“We also propose to use the health passport worldwide system which is an electronic portal for authenticating the Covid-19 status of the tourists during their stay in Kenya, for purposes of ensuring and maintaining test results integrity,” he said.
Mr Hersi said domestic tourism has offered an invaluable lifeline to most establishments during the slow return of international tourists.
“Allow domestic tourists who provide negative Rapid Antigen tests taken within 96 hours to freely access tourist destinations for purposes of taking their holidays. The Antigen test for local travelers is a quick test that will help us enable travel to resume without throwing caution to the wind. It will also help the government get more tests done per day,” he urged.
The tests, Mr Hersi said, can support continued travel while ensuring only those with negative results leave the five counties currently under lockdown.
The federation requested pubs and restaurants to continue offering limited in-services alongside take-away services within the stipulated protocols and physical distancing in order to mitigate losses through expiry and dead stock.
“As tourism industry it was a prerequisite for our staff to be tested to be allowed to resume operations. Many of our establishments from hotels, travels agents and tour companies have been carrying out random Covid-19 tests amongst their workforce. Positivity rate amongst the tested staff is less than 2 percent which is far lower than even the World Health Organisation average let alone our national average,” he added.
The federation is also asking the government to consider the specific challenges the sector is facing and reconsider some of the current containment measures to enable the tourism industry to effectively play its role as one of the key economic pillars and a major foreign exchange earner for Kenya.
“While we point out the pain areas we are also offering our advice as a way forward based on our many years of experience in this business our core mandate is advocacy for enabling policies to grow, protect and sustain the tourism sector,” Mr Hersi added.
The tourism industry is a major contributor to Kenya’s economy, accounting for 8.8 percent of GDP.
In 2019, the sector employed an estimated 1,297,000 people and contributed approximately Sh296 billion to the exchequer.