CS Balala ties up tourism recovery to vaccine hopes

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has tied up the recovery of the industry to the eventual approval and rollout of a vaccine to pin down the spread of COVID-19.

Balala says positive news on vaccine development in the past week is expected to erase fear on international travel which presently remains subdued from the second-wave surge of infections.

“With news on the vaccine, this will bring hope and remove the fear by bringing solutions to this sector. Without a vaccine, there is no future for this sector,” CS Balala told industry stakeholders during the virtual launch of Strathmore University’s Masters in Hospitality Business Management on Tuesday.

“I hope we will be able to disseminate the vaccine in time so that we can have a semblance of business returning to Kenya by July 2021.”

The Tourism sector has been the worst hit industry by the pandemic with the accommodation and food services sector dipping by an alarming 83.3 per cent between July and September on the back of restrictions such as establishment closures.

The end to the bulk of restrictions including the reopening of bars and entertainment joints has however turned the page for the sector as it begins to slowly pick up from the depths of the pandemic.

Hoteliers at the Coast have for instance recorded a substantive return to operations boosted by far by an acceleration in domestic tourists ahead of the Christmas festivities.

“We now have an occupancy rate of nearly 50 per cent. We would expect to hit a higher occupancy of say 70 to 80 per cent as more visitors stream in ahead of the holidays,” said Diani Reef Resort General Manager Jotham Mwang’ombe.

Moreover, data from Immigration Services Kenya shows visitors arrivals into the country hit a six months high of 20,164 in September, beating the combined number of arrivals across the past five months since April.

Without a vaccine however, the operations of the industry are expected to remain volatile with a study listing establishments in the industry as ‘super spreader’ locations.

News of a vaccine in sight from three big pharma including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca has however raised the hopes of an eventual containment of the pandemic.