Kenya has lost more than 80 billion shillings ($752 million) so far in tourism revenue, which count for about half of last year’s total, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kenyan tourism minister announced on Monday.
Last year, the tourism sector, one of the leading sources of foreign exchange, earned about 163.56 billion shillings ($1.54 billion), and this year it had been expected to grow further to 1%.
Unfortunately, the estimations are not promising. Tourism Minister Najib Balala estimated that things would get worse before they can improve. “The second half of the year will almost be as good as zero. So, we have a major problem,” he explained to the reporters after launching his ministry’s study on the pandemic’s impact.
Mohammed Hersi, the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, a private sector lobby, estimated the amount of the losses, which include all the cancelled bookings for the high season months from July to October 2020.
From Indian Ocean beaches to the Maasai Mara wildlife reserve, tourism contributes to more of the 10% of Kenya’s annual economic output and employs over 2 million people.
Kenya, which so far has confirmed more than 6,000 infected COVID-19 cases, shut its airspace to commercial flights in March. It has also banned movement into and out of the capital Nairobi and the coastal resort city of Mombasa.
“The entire tourism sector is out of business. There are major job losses,” Balala declared. “We are on our knees.”
Resorts will have no choice but observing the strict social distancing and hygiene measures to curb the spread of the virus once they will be able to reopen, Balala added, giving no timelines though.
The government has also ordered all bars and nightclubs to be closed and it has imposed a daily, nighttime curfew to stop the spread of the virus.
Despite its wide variety of tourist products, Kenya attracts fewer visitors than competitors like South Africa due to the frequent political upheavals and insurgent attacks.
Between 2012 and 2015, visitor numbers and tourism earnings fell dramatically after a spate of attacks claimed by Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which wants Nairobi to pull troops out of Somalia. Yet, the reduction in attacks in the following years allowed the sector to rebound.