By MWAKWAYA RAYMOND MWAKWAYA
Thirteen Kenya’s coastal historical landmarks left behind by early visitors dating back to 4th century have been stripped bare of revenue since the onslaught of COVID 19 pandemic on March 13, 2020.
Statistics of National Museum of Kenya (NMK) paints a grim picture with all the 13 historical sites along the Kenya’s Vanga (Kwale) to Kiunga (Lamu) recording zero-visitors in the April-June quarter of this year compared to last year (2019).
In last year’s same quarter’s visits, the NMK’s sites recored 24,318 in April, 10,336 in May and 22,164 in June with Fort Jesus’ 28,106 leading the pact followed by Gede Monuents (10,543), Malindi Museums (7,412), Snake Park Gede (5,051) and Jumba Ruins (2,396).
Others are Rabai Museums (1,500), Lamu Museums (676), Mnarani (599), Lamu Fort (378), Takwa Ruins (134), Swahili House (18), Kipini Site (03) and German Post (0).
Sources within Fort Jesus’ NMK offices who wished not to be named attributed the impact on COVID 19’s restrictions for local, national, regional and international travel as the deadly coronavirus took control worldwide.
“Those statistics speaks volumes of how the disease has caused untold suffering and pains to all those who directly or indirectly depend on the 13 tourism sites along the Kenya’s about 500 km seafront,” says one of the sources.
Before the COVID 19 pandemic took the whole world by storm bringing it to a virtual standstill, Kenya tourism sector performance was on the upward trend with United States topping with annual visits of 245,437 tourists.
According to the 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics sources the US was followed by United Kingdom’s 181,484; India’s 122,649; China’s 84,208; Germany’s 73,159; France’s 54,979 and Italy’s 54,607.
But it is significant to note that the top source countries comprising a huge percentage of the record 1.5 billion tourists who travelled internationally last year are currently the hardest hit by the coronavirus.
Prof Evaristus M. Irandu of University of Nairobi’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies in an article, Impact of COVID-19 on Travel and Tourism Industry in Kenya, warns that globally the tourism industry fortunes will continue to dwindle if the disease is not put under control.
According to him the cost of running travel and tourism business will continue to escalate and the number of employees in the sector and related activities will plummet.
In fact, estimates show that revenues in the travel and tourism industry will drop by at least 60 percent by the end of this year, a figure likely to rise.
“If the pandemic continues for several more months, the World Travel and Tourism Council, projects a global loss of 75 million jobs and US$2.1 trillion in revenue,” observes the professor in the article.
A look at the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife statistics indicates that Kenya is the third largest travel and tourism economy in Africa after South Africa and Nigeria with its 2019 international visitors standing at 2,048,334.
Out of these arrivals, 1,423,971 landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi while 128,222 landed at Moi International Airport in Mombasa and 29,462 visitors arrived at other airports.
“This is a clear indication that air transport connectivity is a major driver for the growth of international arrivals to Kenya,” says Prof Irandu in his article.
However, following the outbreak of COVID 19 in Wuhan City in China last December Kenya Airways estimates that it is losing at least US$8 million (Ksh800 million) a month with more restrictions in global travel not easing in the near future.
STATE OF AFFAIRS
This state of affairs has left tourism stakeholders in Kilifi County counting their losses in Malindi and Watamu destinations recording near zero-revenue from their previous 50 – 70 percent bed occupancy before March 2 this year.
The destinations depend on largely on the Italian market with Malindi christined ‘Little Italy’ and second home to Italian reels from the cancellation after neighbouring countries to Italy imposed restrictions on its air travels.
Save for skeleton staff working on rotational shifts at south and north coast hotel industry, the once bustling with tourist activity before coronavirus struck, hospitality facilities are virtually empty and no longer at ease.
Lack of domestic or international visitors under COVID 19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on the top 10 best places to visit in Kilifi County that has an estimated population of 1,109,735 people who depend on tourism and fishing as their major economic activities.
Survey by this writer of Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve, Malindi Marine National Park and Reserve, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke National Reserve, Malindi Museum, Mida Creek, Watamu Beach, Vasco Da Gama Pillar, Mnarani Ruins and Jumba la Mtwana leaves a lot to be desired.
Other centres of interest also wallowing helplessly among the coronavirus waves such as Marafa Depression, Villa Vipingo Ridge, Bofa Beach, Cobra Village, Watamu Turtle Watch, River Rare Eco-Centre and Nature Park and Kilifi Creek are all staring into bleak future.
With the go-to places under COVID 19 siege, some residents have turned to Kazi Kwa Vijana Mtaani program initiated by the national government to eke a living through manual work.
Amina Mohammed, a first-year university student, is a supervisor of the program at Mambrui area who uses the stipend to fend for her family just like Aman Alex, a fourth year at University of Nairobi who intends to maximize his dues by purchasing bundles to attend online classes.
But Pwani University sociologist Professor Dr Halimu Shauri with the ‘new normal’ time has come for the youth to embrace farming as a source of income generating venture under the current situation.
“Tourism is a fragile industry for those who depend on it for their survival but time has come to think outside the box through agrarian revolution,” he says.
Caught in the same intricate web of survival are commercial sex workers who depend on the tourism sector at the Mnarani historical sites have been forced to change tact to eke a living from within.
When the clock ticks 7 pm, they set out for their trade but of late are facing stiff competition with university students living off campus and caught up with economic hardship after their learning institutions closed doors in March.
Mama Lisa Chao, who runs a vegetable kiosk, understand why boda boda riders are making a kill by taking advantage of the pandemic to have sexual relations with multiple commercial workers or students of basic or higher learning.
However, Mnarani Boda Boda Ridders chairman Charo Kenga discounts that his members are to blame for the sorry state of affairs saying parents should even be grateful for their efforts in supporting such desperate girls who are left to wonder around looking for what to eat each day of the week.
“Most of these girls do not have pads and they walk around with their skirts soiled whenever they receive their monthly menstruation periods. Surely, you cannot blame us when we chip in to help,” he says with a tongue in the cheek.
The clergies are disturbed and concerned that the ‘new normal’ is adversely affecting societal decorum and enforcing behavioural aspects that raise eyebrows of morality and humanity in the new dispensation.
Sheikh Khalifa Ali Khalifan of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslim (SUPKEM) is worried under the pandemic morals and ethics are deteriorating at an alarming rate that clearly requires urgent addressing.
“Parents have become so possessive and protective of their children such that no other parent will bother to discipline any child found to be misbehaving out there,” he notes.
But his Christian counterpart Africa Inland Church Pastor John Awour is of the view both the national and county governments have sidelined religious leaders since the outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic.
The cleric wants religious leaders incorporated in all counties or national government cornavirus projects so that they could chip in to enable their faithful deal with issues pertaining to parenting and early pregnancy.
With tourism earnings nosediving in the entire coast region and hospitality industry in doldrums, it will require various fire-fighting strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 on the economy’s transport, food and beverages, entertainment and textiles.
To deal with the negative impact of coronavirus, the national tourism organisations like Kenya Tourism Board will have to liaise with global and local tourism stakeholders so as to prepare them to respond global health emergencies.