The hospitality industry was the first sector to be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be among the last to recover as travelers become more conscious of the health risks and are discouraged by the stringent travel restrictions that are being implemented around the world. For the first time in history, developed countries, emerging economies as well as developing countries are facing recession, possibly worse than the Great Depression of 1929 which lasted until the late 1930s.
Kenya hospitality industry, which thrives based on the free global movement of people, has so far seen a loss of over 85 billion shillings (about $800 million). The severe reduction in tourist numbers across the world has forced many tourist agencies to close doors, greatly undermining global consumption. Even after the pandemic is contained, tourism, especially international tourism, will need a long time to recover as people in general will likely be reluctant to travel due to health and safety concerns. In fact, the World Tourism Organization has said global tourism is facing the most serious crisis since 1950.
It will take a long time before people have the confidence and trust in traveling again. Even when the situation gets better, it will take a while for global travel to pick up the pace. Hospitality industry is the backbone for many of our small businesses, women and vulnerable communities, we must fine tune our approach to provide the people in our communities the support they need in navigating through these difficult times.
First, to help the domestic tourism industry to fully recover, Kenya Tourism Board and other relevant authorities should bolster efforts in strengthening the resiliency of tourism by incorporating risk and emergency management measures, enhancing information flow for sharing best practices and encouraging more collaboration. They should embrace advanced information and communications technology including big data to analyze the actual situation and then take appropriate measures to boost tourism, while warning tourists about the risks the pandemic still poses. They should also issue different guidelines for resuming tourism operations in different regions according to the actual situation.
Second, post-epidemic tourism norms should be tailored to meet people’s new, varied demands, because the coronavirus outbreak has changed tourists’ behaviours, and people’s risk-consciousness has increased substantially. To safeguard their and their families’ health, people want better sanitary and health conditions, and improved plans to deal with emergencies at tourist sites.
Therefore, tourist sites should provide better targeted services, especially in terms of epidemic prevention and control, to meet tourists’ demands in the post-epidemic era. They should also promote high-quality, low-density short trips, and hotels and restaurants should offer better accommodation and catering services and improve their hygiene and sanitary conditions.
Third, there is a need to adjust the development strategy for domestic tourism, inbound tourism as well as outbound tourism according to the actual epidemic situation at home and abroad. Since international tourism is not expected to return to normal any time soon, Kenya Tourism Board should focus on expanding the domestic tourism market, by better meeting tourists’ demands and improving tourism services. They could, for instance, expand duty-free shopping facilities and take measures to boost cross-border e-commerce, in order to encourage potential outbound tourists to enjoy the domestic tourism circuit.
Fourth, Ministry of Tourism should promote a new round of reform and opening-up in the tourism industry to boost domestic tourism and thus facilitate overall economic growth. The coronavirus pandemic has created great challenges for Kenya at a time when it has reached the crucial stage in its pursuit of high-quality development. Promotion of a new round of reform in the tourism industry is not only necessary to cope with the impact of the epidemic but also essential to achieve overall high-quality development.
It is incumbent upon the authorities to introduce further reforms in the tourism industry, including investment system reform and performance evaluation reform. They should also combine tourism sector reform and further opening-up with other significant reforms and strategies such as the Vision 2030.
And fifth, the impact of the pandemic on different economic and social sectors will be long-term and massive, so the authorities have to adjust the development model for the tourism industry. And as the source of the largest number of outbound tourists in the world and an important destination for foreign tourists, Kenya should take into full consideration the effects of the pandemic while finalizing the Vision 2030’s Third Medium Term Plan (MTPIII) Five-Year Plan (2018-2022) and work out effective policies to cope with them.
The writer is the Managing Director and Founder of PrideInn Hotels, he is also the chairman of Kenya Coast hoteliers working group