With the advent of the Corona virus pandemic, 2020 has been a year with more downs than ups. The economy almost came to a standstill, and the tourism sector was not spared with an estimated loss of over Ksh. 130 billion.
The sharp decline in revenues from low occupancy, cancelled trips and disruption of foreign and local travel saw hotels shut down operations, axe casual workers and send other employees on unpaid leave while those who remained got salary cuts.
With airplanes on the ground, hotels closed, and travel restrictions still in place, tourism will continue to be one of the most affected sectors since the pandemic started.
But is all lost? Certainly not! Governments worldwide have taken impressive action to cushion the shock to tourism, preparing tourism recovery and rebound plans and their implementation underway in many countries.
In Kenya, we have introduced hotel and conservation stimulus packages, reduced taxes, invested heavily in health infrastructure, and established health and safety protocols, among other measures.
It goes without saying that the immediate opportunity lies in ramping up domestic and continental tourism and positioning Kenya as the gold-standard and tourist hub to access the rest of the East African region. We have what it takes to make this happen if we adopt an agile mindset and exploit this vast blue ocean of opportunity.
As much as there is potential in the domestic market, we still need to do more. We need to relook product pricing, product reinvention and staff retraining. We cannot offer the same premium prices to the domestic market as we do to the international ones. This is because international tourists visit only once most of the times, while domestic tourists have the potential of visiting a certain local destination again and again and becoming our ambassadors.
Product reinvention and diversification is another key aspect. We cannot be offering the same old tourism facilities and expect to keep on making money. As an industry, we need to come up with unique products, products that will awe tourists and make them want to visit that particular attraction. These products need to be diversified and scattered all over the country so that we can open up the country.
We also need to retrain our staff in the industry. The staff need to serve the domestic market with the same vigor they do to the international market. They must offer them top notch service because a client is king, and that will enhance the visitor experience, making them our brand ambassadors through the word of mouth.
The pandemic has led to innovations that I am sure will outlive it. We are now accustomed to having virtual meetings instead of physical meetings. The measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow. Whatever technological advances we invent today, shall play a key role in the revival of tourism post Covid 19.
Public Private Partnerships have proven to be important if we are to be resilient in this pandemic. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our private sector for all that they have contributed in keeping the industry afloat. From providing hot meals to the front line workers, distributing essential goods including food and clothing to communities around wildlife conservation areas, brainstorming with the Ministry and coming up with the Magical Kenya Tourism and Travel Health and Safety Protocols for the ‘New Normal’ and many other initiatives.
With the various vaccines being developed, there is hope that we will be able to keep the virus at bay and stop it from its track of spreading. We are however pragmatic that it might take time, and we therefore need to continue adhering to the Ministry of Health safety protocols.
I want to assure the tourism sector stakeholders that we appreciate their work and will continue working with them in this difficult but necessary journey, to ensure that we emerge stronger and more resilient as a sector post Covid 19. Because working together, makes us get solutions quickly.
I wish you all happy holidays and a prosperous 2021!
Hon. Najib Balala, EGH
CABINET SECRETARY FOR TOURISM & WILDLIFE