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Economy

Floods hit holiday travel as hotels, parks count losses

A section of Amboseli National Park affected by
A section of Amboseli National Park affected by flooding. PHOTO | GEOFF MAYES 

Hotels, lodges, game parks and reserves are among the business establishments that have been hard hit by floods as heavy rains pound different parts of the country, cutting off roads and severely affecting the flow of traffic ahead of the holiday season characterised by a large number of Kenyans travelling upcountry.

In some instances, hotels, lodges and tented camps have had turn away guests or evacuate those already booked as they seek to mitigate the adverse effects of inclement weather.

At the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok County, which is famed for the annual wildebeest migration, hotel and camp managers have complained that visitors could not enjoy game drives because floods have rendered roads in the reserve impassable.

According to James ole Pere, the manager of Keekorok Lodge located inside the reserve, many rivers had burst their banks.

The floods have raised fears that domestic and international tourists who usually flock the country’s national parks and reserves during the December holidays are likely to stay away in what is set to reduce the income of sector players who earned Sh157.4 billion in revenues last year.

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Last year’s earnings were a 31.2 percent rise from the Sh119 billion posted in 2017 on the back of increased of arrivals. Official data shows that 2,025,206 tourists arrived in the country last year, a rise of 37.33 percent from 1,474,671 international arrivals in 2017.

Flooding has also been reported in the Amboseli National Park in Oloitoktok, near the Kenya-Tanzania border.

On Wednesday, the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) warned tourists about the effects of the heavy rains on parks.

“Following the continuing heavy rains countrywide, some of our mational parks’ roads have been adversely affected, especially Amboseli National Park. The park’s Kimana Gate is periodically flooded and inaccessible as are some parts of the park,” KWS said on Twitter. “Updates on road conditions in other major parks will be shared soon.”

Naivasha town in Nakuru County, a favourite December holiday destination for local tourists has also been experiencing heavy rains, dampening the mood for the tourism sector there.

In Murang’a County, one of the leading hospitality establishments, Edge Wood hotel, has been submerged after water breached the Chania/Maki dam.

“We have temporarily closed down the facility as we observe the situation,” said Chris Gitimu, the proprietor of the hotel. The establishment does not offer accommodation.

The Murang’a County director for meterological services, Paul Murage, has warned that rivers Chania and Thika were filling up fast.

Both rivers have various hospitality establishments fronting them. He also said Masinga and Kiambere dams were also on the verge of overflowing.

In Isiolo County, Ashnil Lodges, Elephant Bedroom, Intrated Safari Lodge, Larsens Camp and Sarova Shaba (owned by the Sarova Hotels and Resorts) and which are located along the Ewaso Nyiro River have had to evacuate their guests due to the dangerously high levels of water after the river broke its banks.

Hotel owners and operators are now facing a difficult task ahead to ensure their guests and facilities remain safe as the heavy rains continue.

“Business operations are ongoing despite the difficult circumstances and we continue to monitor the situation,” Sarova Hotels and Resorts Managing Director Jimi Kariuki said on Wednesday.

In Nairobi, hotel businesses have also not been spared from heavy losses and some have been forced to turn away guests with their facilities remaining submerged.

The high-end Lord Errol Restaurant in the upmarket Runda estate remained closed for the third day running yesterday following the heavy rains that have been pounding the capital city. The restaurant closed its doors on Monday and by Wednesday a source at the facility said they were still cleaning it up but would resume business by the weekend.

“Due to unavoidable circumstances, we would like to inform our valued customers that we will remain closed until further notice,” the restaurant said in a notice to its clients on Monday.

However, Kenya Meteorological Department deputy director Samuel Mwangi dispelled fears that businesses would plunge into further losses, saying that rains in Nairobi, central and north eastern parts of the country will subside.

“It should get better, we expect the second half of the month to see less rains especially in central Kenya, Nairobi and Northern Kenya. We are now in the recovery period and moving closer to the end of the rain season,” Mr Mwangi told the Business Daily on Wednesday.

He however noted that Mombasa and its environs would likely experience sporadic heavy rains towards the end of the year.

Mombasa is also a favourite December holiday destination and train tickets to and from the Coastal city are fully booked during the Christmas holiday season.

Besides hoteliers, transporters have also been affected as floods routinely disrupt movement between towns, with major highways either being cut off, as happened with the road from Kitale to Turkana, which was cut off at Ortum. Bridges have also been submerged in some instances and weak ones washed away altogether. This is further likely to disrupt holiday travel, with the ripple effect being felt by the hospitality industry.

Poor weather has also reduced visibility on major roads like the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, raising the risk of road crashes for travellers. On Wednesday, the Inspector-General of Police, Hillary Mutyambai, recalled all officers from leave to boost security and road safety during the festive period.

Railway transport in the city has also been affected by the inclement weather with Kenya Railways last week temporarily suspending its commuter train services to Kikuyu, Ruiru, Embakasi and Syokimau due to flooding in various parts of the city, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.

The commuter train charges as low as Sh40 from the Nairobi Central Railway Station to Ruiru, which is half the amount charged by public service vehicles on the same route during peak hours. It has become a popular option for thousands of travellers.

In Nairobi, the county government has accused private developers of blocking sewer lines and encroaching on road reserves, worsening the capital city’s already strained sewerage system.

An expert this week attributed the high levels of rainfall being experienced in the country to changes in the temperatures in the Indian Ocean as a result of climate change.

Reporting by John Mutua, George Sayagie, Stanley Kimuge, Ndung’u Gachane and Phyllis Musasia.

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