Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. He wants hotels without internet denied licenses.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has proposed enactment of a policy that seeks to have hotels without stable internet denied licenses as part of wide-ranging measures to ensure that the Kenyan hospitality sector competes favourably with competition across the world even as COVID-19 continues to ravage the sector.

Speaking during the launch of the Tourism Recovery Strategy Report on Monday, Balala lamented that the entire tourism sector is out of business at the moment with 2 million Kenyans employed by the sector currently out of work due to the effects of the pandemic.

According to the report, the industry has lost Ksh80 billion so far, roughly half of the Ksh163 billion the sector raked in last year. The bleeding is projected to continue up until when movement restriction measures are eased or when COVID-19 cases reduce.

Balala on the other hand maintains that the government is working on further measures to ensure that Kenyans who have lost their jobs in the sector will be prioritised once the machine is up and running.

“The entire tourism sector is out of business at the moment, there are major job losses but we have been assured that once we start opening, even the people who have been sent home on redundancies, they will be given the first priority to come back,” said CS Balala.

CS Balala further asked investors in the tourism industry to attract domestic tourism by lowering their rates to the tune that local tourists will be tempted to spend on.

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“Domestic tourists will not pay USD300 to go to Maasai Mara, they save such kind of spending for destinations like Dubai but if the pricing is going to be high, you will not even get domestic tourism,” CS Balala said while referencing the COVID-19 context.

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in a special COVID-19 bulletin observed that the struggles the tourism sector is facing at the moment will be felt across different sectors such as agriculture and retail which depend on the sector.

“The sector is a big employer with robust supply linkages with agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and other sectors. Leisure and conference tourism, both external and domestic face possible collapse owing to travel restrictions which has completely stopped international tourist arrivals, while social distancing measures have affected domestic tourism and conferencing too,” read the special bulletin.

“Closure of restaurant and bars further depresses the performance of the sector with a risk of major job losses if the pandemic persists,” the BPO further stated.

On June 1, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a Ksh2 billion package to cushion the sector.

“I have noted with concern the fact that our hospitality sector has been greatly hit as a result of the lockdowns. We have many of our workers who are seemingly being laid off as a result of there being no business in the tourism and hospitality sector,” said President Kenyatta during Madaraka Day Celebrations at State House, Nairobi.

“In order to cushion these workers and to work in line with this sector, my administration will focus on intervention by offering an initial Ksh2 billion from the exchequer to support hotels and all related hospitality establishments and to ensure that they are able to maintain their staff. Our cabinet sub-committee will be meeting to ensure it engages with stakeholders to develop protocols for this,” added the President.

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Samuel Gitonga is a senior reporter at BUSINESS TODAY. Email: [email protected]

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