Kenyans travelling upcountry not sure of return – transporters

Booking trends indicate most people are buying one way tickets.

In Summary

•Transitionally, people have been booking return tickets with others reserving space for possible return dates.

•The trend has been pegged on among others, job losses in the city where more than 5.9 million jobs have been affected this year.

Passengers boarding a Mash bus. Photo/File
Passengers boarding a Mash bus. Photo/File

A large number of Kenyans travelling upcountry for Christmas and New Year are not sure of their return to the city, booking trends show.

Unlike other years where travellers have been booking return tickets or reserving space on projected return travel dates, only a handful are opting for the same, a spot check on major transporters by the Star revealed.

This has been linked to the job losses and low business prospects witnessed this year as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the economy.

As of September, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimated that around 1.7 million people, mainly in the capital Nairobi, had been made redundant due to the pandemic, as companies and industries opted to cut on operational costs to survive.

Kenya Private Sector Alliance data, however, puts job losses at above 5.9 million since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country, in March.

Easy Coach, which serves Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley with a fleet of about 100 buses, has reported full booking for this week for scheduled travel from the city, but low inquiries for return.

“Our buses are returning empty. People are not travelling as usual. Though the traffic going to different parts of the country is high, there is not much on return plans,” managing director Azym Dossa said.

Mash East Africa, which has operations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, with a fleet of more than 60 buses, has also recorded huge numbers travelling upcountry from the coastal city, with near-zero bookings for return in the short-term.

“People are going but it seems most of them have no return plans as per our booking trends. However, we believe they will travel back after the festivities,” general manager Lennox Shalo told the Star in a phone interview.

This has also been noted at Modern Coast, which also has regional operations.

Other buses that indicated huge numbers from the city with low returns include ENA Coach and Transline, which mainly serve the South Nyanza routes.

“We are seeing hundreds coming home but from this end to Nairobi, numbers are low. On normal days, we actually stop people from early bookings for return trips because of high demand,” Evans Otieno, a Migori-based booking agent, told the Star.

The Matatu Owners Association last week described this year's festive season as “low-key”, as passenger movement remains subdued in the wake of Covid-19.

Transporters continue to report low business at a time when traditionally, demand for road transport is always high as Kenyans travel upcountry and to the Coast for festivities.

MOA said there are low passenger numbers from Nairobi to other parts of the country, even as PSVs operate on half capacity.

Even so, bus fares are expected to remain on average for the different routes as opposed to spikes seen during the Christmas season, the association's chairman Simon Kimutai said.

More than 60,000 matatus and buses operate on Kenyan roads on any given day.

There is not much movement this festive season. We don’t see any rush,” Kimutai said in a telephone interview.

Last-minute travel plans could, however, see demand for road public transport rise as the week ends, with the Chrismas falling on a weekend.

A huge number of city dwellers are also said to have relocated in the course of the year when massive job losses were reported.

Companies started shedding jobs at the onset of the pandemic in March.

Kepsa had in June this year indicated at least 5,991,768 direct and indirect jobs had either been lost or workers sent home on unpaid leave as companies and businesses mitigated effects of the virus.

This was seven-fold the 846,300 new jobs created last year as per the Economic Survey 2020.

Travel and tourism were the most hit with 3.1 million jobs affected, including hotel employees, pubs and restaurants, tour operators, airlines, travel agents and their related suppliers and support services.

At least 450,000 jobs had been lost in construction and real estate, including casual labourers.

In the manufacturing sector, 30,000 direct jobs had been lost due to overall reduction in demand. Between 100,000 and 150,000 additional indirect jobs by June when the country witnessed closure of other key sectors such as hospitality.

Other affected sectors were public transport (126,768) and wholesale and retail (40,000 jobs).