Compressed school terms change domestic tourism patterns

Hotels have been recording low numbers for the better part of this year.

In Summary

•The industry has traditionally reaped from high numbers in domestic travel during school holidays(April, August and December).

•Most facilities are at 40 –50 per cent average occupancy as opposed to an initial projection of 70 per cent.

Domestic tourists swimming at Best Western Plus Creekside Hotel in Mombasa with no foreign tourists around/
Domestic tourists swimming at Best Western Plus Creekside Hotel in Mombasa with no foreign tourists around/

The tight school calendar has changed domestic tourism trends in the country with parents cutting on leisure spending to meet school fees demands.

Massive job losses, reduced disposable income and the increased school fees demand on the back-to-back school terms has exerted pressure on parents, with most households prioritising their expenditure.

Traditionally, the hotel and tourism industry reaped from high numbers in domestic travel during long school holidays (April, August and December).

This has however changed this year where holidays have been reduced to less than two weeks.

Last week, public schools across country closed for less than two weeks with hoteliers reporting a little impact on destinations such as the Coast, Naivasha, Mara, Amboseli, Kisumu and Mount Kenya.

"The average occupancy is still not good since the holiday is only around 10 days. We will therefore see an influx for the 10 days then revert to low occupancy afterwards," Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers(KAHC) CEO Mike Macharia told the Star on telephone.

Yesterday, hoteliers at the coast reported an average occupancy of between 40 50 per cent for the region which has over 400 high-end facilities spreading from Diani, Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu.

The coast region's overall occupancy is however an increase from an average 30 per cent reported in August, as the industry continue to survive on domestic tourism.

The numbers had been projected to hit a high of 70 per cent mainly in Mombasa which is heavily served by the Standard Gauge Railway between the coastal city and Nairobi, operating day and night trains.

“There is a little improvement on domestic tourism but we are still not clocking in,” said Julius Owino, chief executive, Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA).

Industry players said they had expected the national government would ease Covid-19 containment measures including ending the 10pm4am curfew, which would encourage night travel and revival of night life which are key activities for the tourism industry.

The government has however extended the existing containment measures for another period of 30 days.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Monday said the country is yet to hit the World Health Organisation recommended positivity rate of five per cent for a consistent period of 14 days.

"We need the 30 days and extend the time so that we can vaccinate as many people during that period as possible," Kagwe said.

Hoteliers have since called on the government to end the curfew which has been in place since March last year, affecting key sub-sectors in tourism such as night clubs, bars and restaurants.

"The extension of curfew is not good for our business and as we have said before, it needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency," Macharia said.

He said the country needs to relax the curfew rules and have a vaccine policy for external visitors, if the hotel and tourism industry at large is to  realise real change in numbers.

Kenya's Covid-19 containment measures and travel restrictions in some key international markets has also seen arrivals into the country remain low.

“The pronouncement of curfew is now one of the critical things constraining the industry. This is something that needs to be reviewed,”  Ikwaye told the Star on telephone.

According to Ikwaye, local tourists mainly from Nairobi had made bookings in anticipation of an end to the curfew last week, as they planned for the October 10 and 20 public holidays.

“ School holidays have had very little impact, business is bad but the numbers were looking good for this month. We hope things will not change. Going forward, we need to open up the economy,” said Ikwaye.

In the case of removal of the curfew and eased restrictions, including allowing fully vaccinated international tourists to come in without the extra charges on rapid tests, hotels could recover to above 80 per cent in December, KAHC says.

According to Ikwaye, the least time international tourists take to plan for holidays is between three and four months .

"If we do it now (review Covid restriction), then we are likely to have good numbers by December," he said.

His sentiments were echoed by KCTA which has also called on the government to ease travel restrictions for persons fully vaccinated.