The tourism and travel sector is undoubtedly one of the worst hit globally following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arising from the pandemic, the tourism and wildlife sector is experiencing unprecedented health and socio-economic crisis of unimagined proportions. Global response measures have devastated the sector occasioned by travel restrictions. There is undoubtedly no determined end in sight to the pandemic although global efforts to find vaccine(s) and develop guidelines on how to live with COVID-19 have picked momentum.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism continued to outpace the global economy having recorded 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals in 2019 representing a 4% increase from the previous year.
Although the UNWTO had projected growth of about 3% to 4% in international tourist arrivals worldwide in 2020 based on the 2019 growth trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO confidence index, these projections are now in doubt due to the outbreak of the pandemic. In Kenya, tourism remains the third largest contributor to GDP after agriculture and manufacturing. For instance, the number of international visitor arrivals increased by 0.4% to 2.03 million in 2019 whereas tourism earnings grew by 3.9% from Kshs157.4 billion ($1.45 billion) in 2018 to Kshs163.6 billion ($1.52 billion) in 2019 according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Economic Survey Report of 2020.
In addition, the year 2019 saw a significant growth in bed night numbers from 4.48 million in 2018 to 4.95 million in 2019 representing a 10.4% growth rate according to the tourism sector performance report released early in the year by the Tourism Research Institute. However, the outbreak of the corona virus and its subsequent declaration as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization threw all these positive projections into disarray. The key to fighting this pandemic as has been touted by the World Health Organization, UNWTO, health practitioners and governments globally is good hygiene, physical distancing and wearing of masks when outdoors.
This is why the Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has unveiled Magical Kenya Tourism and Travel Health and Safety Protocols for The ‘New Normal’ providing a set of guidelines seeking to mitigate the effects of the disruptions caused by the corona virus in business and people’s livelihoods.
“These protocols shall apply in reopening our tourism and travel industry in Kenya,” said Mr. Balala.
The protocols are divided into: The global four pillar requirements, as guided by the World Tourism and Travel Council restart guidelines, followed by the general protocols which all establishments, facilities and enterprises in the tourism and allied sectors along the tourism value chains should adhere to, targeted protocols that relate to specific types of establishments, facilities and enterprises customized to the nature of their business.
The Tourism Regulatory Authority is expected to oversight compliance with the protocols in collaboration with the other government agencies including Ministry of Health and the tourism private sector through their associations and individual enterprises.
Operational and Staff Preparedness: These involve measures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among clients, staff and supply chain workers. It also involves the redesign of the physical work space and work processes to ensure compliance with physical distancing of not less than 1.5 meters apart. Hotel premises are required to obtain licenses and certificate/permit or stickers signifying compliance with the provision of these protocols to be considered for reopening from necessary national and county authorities.
Ensuring a Safe Experience: Although industry players have always strived to ensure they deliver a safe experience for their guests through hygiene best practices, hotels must ensure they have implemented processes focused on enhanced sanitation and frequent disinfection. Under this, facilities are also expected to establish and maintain a documented list of emergency contacts, reporting system and evacuation procedures for any emerging health related incidents.
Rebuilding Trust and Confidence: This has been put in place to ensure there is prompt, clear, accurate, consistent and enhanced communication with customers on new health and safety protocols, both digitally and physically placed at strategic points.
Other measures by the Ministry include a 50 per cent reduction for entry fees to all Kenya Wildlife Service game parks and reserves. This applies for all categories of tourists (local, residents and international), effective July 1, 2020 for one year.
Implementing Enabling Policies and Integrating Innovation: As the tourism and travel industry works to recover, the Kenyan government must institute enabling implementation of policies through collaborative efforts with the sector as new rules for cross-border travel are developed. The government is also expected to provide financial relief to the sector through reduction or exemption of taxes, and refurbishment funds for tourism facilities and other establishments.
However, golf club tourism facilities are considered high risk and will be governed by the requirement to have golfers wear masks at all times while at the facility.
Generally, these protocols therefore, are expected to greatly contribute to positioning Kenya as a safe and secure destination appealing to the needs of the “germophobic” tourist, hence recover visitor confidence as well as enable the tourism and hospitality businesses to operate safely amid the pandemic and beyond.