BY FATUMA HAMISI
Tourism players in Taita Taveta ecosystem have lamented over low records of bookings as foreigners stay away due to COVID-19 virus.
Confirming the same, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHKC) in Tsavo and Amboseli Willy Mwadilo said hotels in the entire ecosystem are operating below a 12 percent bed occupancy as foreign visitors kept off.
Mwadilo noted that management of these accommodation joints have been forced to send their workers on leave while some have taken off duties.
The employers according to him are monitoring the situation for the next 30 days.
“For instance, Sarova Hotels Alliance which runs Taita Hills and Salt Lick lodges in Tsavo West National Park with a manpower of more than 130 have asked the employees to go on leave,” he revealed.
The official, who also doubles as the general manager, Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges said the situation is the same in Voi Safari Lodge, Ngulia, Kilaguni, Serena, Ashnil and Voi Wildlife Lodges among other hotels in Tsavo ecosystem where the number of visitors is low.
“We are now depending on domestic tourists. We have no guests in our hotels and the situation is getting worse each day,” the official noted.
Meanwhile, as the Corona Virus continues to hit the country, Ngulia Lodge situated in the vast Tsavo National Park has set up 52 functional isolation rooms meant for quarantine purposes in a bid to combat COVID-19.
Speaking to the media over the weekend, Ronald Simiyu Ngulia Lodge manager said the isolation facility is fully equipped to combat the rapid spread of Coronavirus in Taita-Taveta County.
“The hotel is observing the required standards of hygiene and will be relaying updates to the County Department of Health Services on various activities to ensure the safety of all locals within the county,” he said
Simiyu says the hotel has not received any visitor for the past three days adding that plans are underway to reduce the number of workers due to massive cancellation of bookings,”
The setting up of 52 room isolation facility brings to three the number of isolation units so far set up in the county to help fight COVID-19 in the region.
The other isolation units include; the Taita Taveta sub county hospital and the Mwangea dispensary in the outskirts of Voi town.
Each facility has a bed capacity of 10.
The response team led by the Heath Services Executive committee member, John Mwakima is conducting an inspection and sensitization forums in all hotels within Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks in a bid to combat spread of COVID-19 Virus.
The awareness campaign in hotels in Tsavo comes at a time whereby 16 people among them hotel workers have been placed under self-quarantine after they interacted with four French tourists, one which has so far tested positive with the deadly Coronavirus.
The tourists arrived in the county on March 13th this year and had interacted with Voi Wildlife Lodge hotel workers and locals in the vast Tsavo Conservation Area before leaving for Kwale County and quarantined at Msambweni Sub County hospital.
Mwakima noted the county risks being hit by the Corona virus due to its proximity to the Nairobi-Mombasa highway expansive Tsavo National Parks that had been attracting thousands of domestic and foreign visitors in the recent past.
He urged the hotel owners to observe the set out preventive measures or else risk punitive measures in accordance with the Public Health Act.
The Ministry of Health issued a mandatory self-quarantine directive to all visitors and people jetting into the country. We are closely working together with the county security team to ensure the rules and regulations are adhered to,” stated the CEC.
According to Tsavo West National Park Senior Warden Felix Mwangangi the number of foreigners visiting the wildlife ecosystem has drastically declined from 1,500 per day to less than 50 which he notes has led to a drop in revenue collection.
The warden disclosed that hotels have been experiencing massive cancellation of bookings immediately after the confirmation of the first COVID19 patient in the country.
Some of the affected hotels in the vast park include Ashnil Aruba and Lion Hill hotel which are in the verge of closure.
At the same time, tourism players have now resorted to reducing the number of workers in an effort to minimize infection rate.
Like Ashnil Aruba the management has slashed employees from 97 to 20, Ngutuni Lodge 37 to 10 employees and Sagala Lodge scaling down its workforce from 17 to 7 respectively.
Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges has now a workforce of 30 from the previous 130.
Other hotels worst hit by the impacts of the pandemic include; Satao Camp, Man Eaters Camp, Lions Hill Hotel, Voi Safari Lodge, Ngulia Bandas, Lions Bluff, and Voi Wildlife Lodge.