The Covid-19 pandemic has had an undeniable effect on our way of life. People have been required to make changes to curb the spread of the virus, from minimizing physical contact with others to wearing masks at all times in public and sanitizing hands as often as possible. The ways people interact and communicate have changed, people no longer touch as freely as they used to, a loss more acute than people anticipated at the beginning of the pandemic.
There have been significant limitations to people’s movements, from national and international border lockdowns to curfews and the limiting of the number of people travelling in both private and public transit. The changes when it comes to movement have affected individuals and whole industries at large. In this article, we’ll examine the effects the pandemic has had on the travel and tourism sectors in Kenya.
Effects on Travel
One of the key changes instituted to curb the spread of the disease has been limiting people’s movement. In Kenya, right at the beginning of the pandemic, the government introduced a raft of measures regarding travel. The primary way of travelling for Kenyans is public service vehicles. The new policies therefore largely focused on public service vehicles.
Social distancing measures
Public service vehicles were required to at all times not exceed 60% of their usual capacity because of social distancing measures. The diminished capacity meant decreased profits which the transport industry was not going to absorb which then led to a hike in fares. Some matatus in order to maximize profits even while observing social distancing measures had the foresight to change the entire sitting arrangement in the vehicles.
There was a brief ban on travelling outside of Nairobi in April in a partial lockdown of the city. The movement was also halted in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties. Many people found themselves stuck wherever they had gone and some found themselves stuck in Nairobi. This was incredibly difficult with those unable to afford hotels or lodges having to spend the night on the streets and depend on donations from well-wishers to get by. The ban was eventually lifted temporarily by the high court following a petition by the human rights crusader, Okiya Omtatah.
Ban on night travel
The first to go was night travel which went into effect in 2020 and was eventually lifted by a high court decision. The ban on night travel was temporarily lifted at the beginning of 2021 to allow students travelling to school to do so with minimal hassle. The public service matatus were strained especially with the implementation of social distancing which meant fewer people could travel per trip at a time when demand was at its peak. This led to the introduction of night travel trips via train to ease the pressure on both the PSVs and the passengers. The Kenya Railways Night SGR Train From Nairobi To Mombasa & Here Is What You Need To Know
Governments and airports worldwide closed their borders and suspended international travel at the height of the pandemic which many only gradually loosening travel restrictions months later. Kenya followed suit. This halt in both domestic and international travel led to significant losses for the aviation industry. Kenya Airways converted some of its grounded passenger planes into cargo planes in order to stay in operation.
Every country instituted restrictions on people’s movement. For people whose livelihoods depend on travel, this had unfortunate effects on their jobs. Truck drivers have suffered massive job losses because of the new problems that have cropped up as a result.
All the tests and procedures at the various borders and the associated delays mean goods delay in reaching their destinations which leads to losses, particularly for perishable goods. So much time is reportedly lost and with it money which has led to some of them losing their jobs. They are also forced to work longer hours to make up for the delays which is dangerous not only for them but also for other road users.
Effects on Tourism
At the height of the pandemic, countries closed their borders to restrict movement in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. This meant no tourism, dealing a heavy blow to countries in which international tourism is a major foreign exchange earner. Kenya is one of them.
Tourism arrivals in Kenya dropped by 72% in the first ten months of the pandemic with no arrivals completely in April, May, June and July when international flights were grounded. The international ban was lifted in August 2020. Kenya has lost more than 50% of its annual tourism earnings, with the figure at 110 billion shillings as of October 2020.
Hoteliers in areas like the coast that are heavily dependent on tourism began to lay off their staff as soon as the borders were closed and it was clear that tourism was on pause until further notice. Lodges, hotels and conservancies have had to send their staff away temporarily or even permanently because of low occupancy.
The local communities that benefit from tourism and all other enterprises in the value chain including tour operators, travel agents, pubs and restaurants have also significantly suffered. Several companies have collapsed entirely meaning all the staff have lost their jobs. Over three million jobs have been affected in the tourism eco-system with over two and a half million jobs lost.
Focus on Local tourism
Because of the closed borders, there was a concerted effort to encourage local tourism which had initially been hampered by high prices designed to maximize the profits from foreign high-value tourists. Different establishments began to actively target the local market, adjusting their packages and pricing appropriately for both the Kenyan and the East African market. There has been an increase in domestic travel with the local market being relied on to sustain the industry as international travel slowly resumes.
The effects of the pandemic have been far-reaching affecting the economy, jobs and even the way people move about locally and internationally. As companies find their footing and pivot to adjust to the new realities, changes sweep the landscape. Public transit vehicles have adjusted with some even changing the sitting arrangement in the vehicles. The tourism industry has begun to see the value in the local market and made changes to successfully target the people. As we wait to see if the transport and tourism industry will recover or at the very least stabilize, we recognize the untold human suffering occasioned by all these job losses and losses of income. We empathise with those struggling in the travel and tourism industry during these difficult times.