Travel agents want rapid COVID-19 tests to boost international arrivals

Travel agents have called for the installation of rapid COVID-19 test facilities at international airports to serve as a marker of confidence to rebounding international travel.

According to the tourism intermediaries, the rapid tests will serve as a stopgap measure clearing up doubts on the validity of COVID-19 certificates issued by third party health centres.

At present, a traveller is only required to present a negative COVID-19 certificate at the airport before embarking or disembarking on international travel.

However, this protocol has come under scrutiny after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended new visa issues to Kenyans over the issuance of suspected counterfeit certificates.

“In the absence of this tool, we shall not be able to instil confidence to travellers aspiring to visit Kenya or those transiting within our hubs. This would be a cure to the legitimacy of certifications and would show that the country is serious about safeguarding the health of travellers,” said the Chief Executive Officer to the Kenya Association of Travel Agents Agnes Mucuha.

Mucuha sentiments are closely echoed by the Chief Executive Officer to the Kenya Tourism Federation Susan Ongaro who worries of the existence of grey areas in the handling of COVID-19 certification.

According to her, the issuance of certification before travel has limitations including the short-timed lapse of the validity for the certificates.

Additionally, KTF is seeking to have the validity of COVID-19 certificates extended to support a longer stay of international arrivals in the country.

“We have written to the Ministry of Health appealing for an extension of the validity of certificates from the current 96 hours four days is not realistic. We are advocating for this so we can have more tourists coming,”

The advocacy for rapid testing comes as the tourism sector seeks to emerge from the initial COVID-19 hit which saw international travel halted at the end of March to the start of August this year.

According to data form the Kenya Association of Travel Agents, gross turnover to members between January and October has fallen sharply to a mere Ksh.13 billion from Ksh.52 billion over the same period last year.

Meanwhile, data from the Tourism Research Institute showed a 72 per cent decline in arrivals over the same period to 470,0971 from 1.72 million arrivals last year.

The loss from the declining revenues has been tabulated at Ksh.37 billion against a projected revenue growth of Ksh.147.5 billion.

Players in the sector have had to seek refuge in the domestic market to absorb the shocks which have only begun to lift.

In spite of the recorded devastation, Bella Safaris Chief Executive Officer George Njuguna says the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise having revealed the potential of the local market.

“We have had to leverage on domestic travel and have had to come up with packages aligned to the Ministry of Health guidelines. Kenyans have gotten to learn more about their country including new destinations such as dessert safaris and beaches on the shores of Lake Turkana,” he said.