The Treasury has handed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) a Sh1.5 billion bailout to pay salaries and conduct animal census, underlining the dire liquidity crunch facing the agency.
With no tourists visiting wildlife parks for much of last year because of travel restrictions due to coronavirus, the State-owned agency’s finance suffered a big hit, leaving it on the edge and unable to meet some of its obligations.
A second supplementary budget tabled in Parliament said the Treasury had increased allocations to wildlife conservation programme from Sh8.2 billion to Sh9.7 billion to cater for KWS salaries and an ongoing animal census.
“The increase is on account of salary shortfall of Sh1.2 billion for KWS and provision for wildlife census,” Finance Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said.
The KWS has joined the list of agencies that have sought State bailouts, including Kenya Airways, Kenya Power, and multiple universities seeking urgent support after their revenues dropped sharply during the pandemic.
According to the agency’s 2018 annual report, KWS had 6,177 workers out of who 4,870 were permanent and 1,307 temporary and contract workers.
It paid Sh4.5 billion for salaries while other operating expenses amounted to Sh2.5 billion which summed up to Sh7.7 billion costs inclusive of depreciation costs.
The service has been operating on a deficit as it generates most of its revenues internally, raising Sh7 billion, of which Sh3.6 billion came from tourism, Sh2.3 billion from the government, and Sh1.1 billion from donors, the annual report shows.
The Service operates 23 national parks, 29 national reserves, six marine national parks, six marine national reserves, and six national sanctuaries.
KWS receives about 1.9 million visitors annually at parks and reserves, according to its 2017 annual report.
It has been charging local residents Sh800 for a visit to Nakuru and Amboseli, Sh400 for an urban safari in Nairobi, Sh500 for a trip to Tsavo, and between Sh200 and Sh250 for visits to Meru, Kora, Aberdares, and sanctuaries in Nairobi and Kisumu.
Foreigners pay $35 (Sh3,776) in Nairobi, Nakuru, and Amboseli, $30 (Sh3,273) for visits to Tsavo to Meru, Kora, Aberdares, and $20 (Sh2,158) sanctuaries in Nairobi and Kisumu.
The service also offers packages for mountain climbing, camping, lodges, and conferences.
Kenya’s tourism sector that is heavily reliant on foreign tourists for its national safaris and popular beach resorts has been badly hit by coronavirus, with visitor numbers dropping by 72 percent between January and October last year.
The total number of international visitors through all ports of entry from January to October 2020 were down to 470,971 from 1,718,550 in 2019.
Kenya’s Tourism Research Institute estimated the country could have lost up to Sh110 billion of direct international tourists revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This 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.
The accommodation and food sector of the economy contracted by 57.9 percent in the third quarter, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics compared to 9.9 percent growth in 2019.
Despite the reopening of the economy towards the end of last year, occupancy remained low with a Central Bank of Kenya survey saying bed occupancy in Nairobi stood at 17 percent while the rest of the country stood at 30 percent.
The government has even been trying to revive the sector by hiring celebrities including British supermodel Naomi Campbell as Kenya’s tourism ambassador and roping in world marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge, to be the domestic tourism ambassador in mid-August 2020.