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Travel agents’ plea as poll impasse persists

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Kenya’s travel agents have appealed to political leaders to find a solution to the current poll standoff, saying prolonged electioneering period is taking a great toll on business travel.

The Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) said whereas the industry was able to withstand the aftermath of the August 8 General Election, the ongoing political uncertainty punctuated with violent protests is threatening to bring business to a grinding halt.

“Overall air ticket bookings from various booking channels by travel agents have dropped by about 10% from 1.7 million to 1.5 million for the period ending September compared to same period last year,” KATA CEO Nicanor Sabula said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

“It is highly likely that the last two months the drop has been more than 50%,” Sabula said.

He said travel agents have in general recorded a 30% drop in business as a result of cancellations or no bookings, and this could even be higher for agents that heavily rely on government business as with reports indicating drops of up to 50%.

Sabula said airlines are recording low bookings and high number of cancellations for conferences, meetings and leisure travel for December periods with a number of them grappling with high requests for refunds.

“We are therefore calling on all the major political players in the country to be cognizant of the impact the political impasse is having on the economy and business and find a quick solution so that the country can move on,” Sabula said.

Business travel is a key sub-sector of the tourism industry with estimated annual sales of Ksh 52 billion (US$500 million) and provides employment to thousands of Kenyans who work within the travel agencies across the major cities in the country.

The industry as any in the tourism sector is highly sensitive to uncertainty, safety and security and any threat to violence instantly destabilises business.

There have been cancellations of major events, meetings and conferences set to be hosted in Kenya among them the UNAIDS Global Prevention Coalition Meeting, the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) among other high level corporate meetings which are now being moved to neighboring countries.

“It is estimated that with average monthly ticket sales of about 50 million US dollars (Ksh 5.2 billion), the industry has in the last two months alone lost about 15 million dollars (Ksh 1.6 billion) worth of sales as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty. This could rise to over 30 million dollars (Ksh 3.1 billion) if the current impasse is not quickly resolved,” said Sabula.

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi is a key economic hub for the Eastern and Central Africa region hosting several global companies, UN agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations thus playing a pivotal role in business travel across the region.

“Political uncertainty and violence is affecting the decisions to travel. We appeal for the immediate cessation of the violent demonstrations and restrain from the security organs so as to redeem the global image of the country and instill confidence of visitors and investors,” Sabula said.

ALSO SEE: Political impasse hits tourist arrivals

The travel agents said the recent government ban on travel by government officials has greatly affected spending on travel therefore hugely impacting the sector.

“Government, like in any other sectors, is a big consumer of travel services contributing to more than 60 percent of business and therefore a blanket ban for all but essential travel is having a major toll on the business,” they said.

The government in September banned all civil servants from travelling outside the country without clearance from the president. But the travel agents called on the government to rescind the ban.

Sabula said the current period is usually high season for business travel as it is the time when many companies and organizations hold strategic meetings to budget and plan for the following year.

“This is the case also with government departments and agencies. However, bookings have significantly dropped therefore affecting domestic travel a great deal,” he said and appealed for calm among Kenyans even as the country goes through the current uncertainty.

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