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Shipping & Logistics

Hoteliers’ jitters mount as coronavirus grounds flights

Travellers from China
Travellers from China have been the worst-hit by coronavirus. PHOTO | Xinhua 

Hotels at the Coast are putting in place contingency measures as they seek to cope with challenges posed by coronavirus that has halted flights from countries bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

The hotels have revised cancellation policy for travellers following stoppage of flights from key tourism source markets.

Kenya has stopped flights from North Italy. This has meant cancellation of already booked flights as Italy is one of the major source markets for tourism.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said the industry players should adopt lenient cancellation policies to encourage travellers to choose Kenya once the virus is contained globally.

Mr Balala said although it was a difficult decision for government to halt flights from North Italy, the move was necessary in light of the coronavirus crisis.

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“Italy is one of our big source markets on the Kenyan coast and it was a difficult decision for government to make (to halt flights from North Italy), but it was necessary,” he said in a meeting with the players at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel in Mombasa.

He said almost all African-related coronavirus infections recorded have been with travellers from North Italy.

A global update shows that the virus has so far affected more than 90,000 people while over 3,000 have died in more than 77 countries.

On Tuesday last week, Kenya’s Coronavirus National Emergency Response Committee halted flights from Italy’s northern cities of Verona and Milan, which have direct flights to Mombasa. The committee has also banned flights between Kenya and Iran.

The coast tourism stakeholders met the CS to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the travel and hospitality industry.

The minister urged the hoteliers to make travel packages for domestic and regional travellers affordable and attractive to mitigate against such eventualities as the coronavirus.

This comes as the Ministry of Health continues to enhance surveillance at the border points and all ports of entry.

Mr Balala advised Kenyans not to stigmatise foreign nationals currently visiting or residing in Kenya on the basis of the prevailing pandemic.

“Whether Asian or Caucasian, let’s not stigmatise foreign nationals. The government through the Ministry of Health has installed screening systems of the COVID-19, at all border points,” he said adding that the Ministry of Health is actively sharing online vital information on ways to minimise the risk of contracting coronavirus.

He further urged the stakeholders to adopt strict hygiene steps in all hotels, lodges, airlines, tour vans and restaurants.

The Kenya Coast Tourists Association chairperson Victor Shitakha said the stakeholders’ meeting was crucial to discuss how workers in the sector can be trained to deal with the disease.

The meeting brought more than 50 players including hotel owners led by Roberto Marini, managing director at Ocean Beach Resort and SPA, Hasnain Noorani, managing director, PrideInn Group, county officials from Lamu, Kilifi Mombasa and Kwale.

“We discussed better ways to handle the disease, resilient strategies as a sector and measures to stop spreading fears and panic. We agreed on the importance of our staff to undergo training,” he said.

Last week, Kenya’s travel industry announced its earnings had dropped by Sh3 billion or six percent of last year’s revenue as holidaymakers continue to cancel their plans over coronavirus fears.

The Kenya Association of Travel Agents (Kata) chairman Mohammed Wanyoike said if the hotel and flight cancellations persist, the loss could hit 10 percent of last year’s revenue of Sh51 billion by end of the month.

“We have already quantified that cancellation of travels in February has resulted in a six percent decline in revenues. We are calling on travellers to engage directly with Kata certified travel agents for credible and factual information to guide their travel decisions,” said Kata chairman Mohammed Wanyoike, adding that the travel industry has recorded a sharp decline.

“We are expecting the number of travellers to drop in the short-term as the travel restrictions come into effect to key markets and destinations as witnessed in China, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Italy,” he said.

Kata in a statement said all International Air Transport Association accredited airlines operating in Kenya have conformed with passenger safety standards set by IATA and World Health Organisation.

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