BOOKINGS CANCELLED

Ban on alcohol sale, virus rules slow down tourism in Watamu

Redesigning public spaces for social distancing; handwashing equipment and screening are extra costs

In Summary

• Hoteliers have also grappled with the costs of making their establishments conform to rules such as testing of staff and redesigning public spaces for social distancing.

• August is a tourist high season in Watamu with hotels teeming with guests and other businesses booming. That is not the case this year.

Restrictions on the sale of alcohol in hotels, bars, and restaurants and booking cancellations have caused a slow revival of the tourism business in Watamu. 

Hoteliers have also grappled with the costs of making their establishments conform to rules such as testing of staff and redesigning public spaces for social distancing. Businesses also have to put up handwashing or sanitising points and use thermoguns to screen patrons.  

August is a tourist high season in Watamu with hotels teeming with guests and other businesses booming. That is not the case this year. 

 

Turtle Bay, Lily Palm Mapango Restaurant and Hemingways are some of the businesses that have complied with the new guidelines and reopened. All are banking on the domestic market and expect to begin receiving international tourists from November.

At Turtle Bay Resort domestic tourists said they were happy the resort was back in operation.

Damien Davies, general manager at Turtle Bay, said they are optimistic that business will boom again after reopening early this month.  

Davies said their main challenge is to make sure the resort is safe for guests to come for holiday.

“Reopening is an expensive process. The government departments make sure that you have complied with all the regulations,” he said.

He said the ban on alcohol in resorts was a massive deal-breaker for people who need to relax and enjoy their holidays. 

“We had many groups which said, ‘Sorry, if I cannot have a drink with my family then there is no need to come,’” he said.

 

He said the resort follows all the protocols and it is safe for them to be allowed to sell alcohol.

James Ochieng, the proprietor of Car Wash Restaurant, said the last four months have been difficult because the town relies heavily on tourism.

Since the pandemic began, he said, there have been no visitors, which has affected business badly to an extent that there are no sales.

“It's not only restaurants that were affected even bars, hotels, and any businesses around because no tourists are coming. Now our restaurants have been forced to shut down completely,” he said.

Ochieng said they do not understand what is happening with the government because it has failed to support them.

“We have to follow the government protocols but the truth is that it's really affecting us,” he said.

The proprietor said of his five fulltime staff, only one is left at the restaurant as he is unable to pay them.

“We are in darkness we don't understand what is going on and we do not know what to do,” he said.

Rolando Canestrini, owner of Lily Palm Mapango Resort said they have only partially opened to serve domestic tourists who are beginning to stream in.

Canestrini said the situation was good until the pandemic began but expressed optimism that the future would be better.

Public health officials visit regularly to assess whether the resort id complying with Covid-19 protocols, he said. 

Canestrini said many Kenyans have complained about lack of alcohol as many people like drinking while on holiday.

“We will follow Kenyan law 100 per cent.  I hope the government and everybody will help us so that we can organise by November or December to have guests from all around Europe,” he said.

He said their focus now will be on the Kenyan market because the country has opened and local tourists can travel for holiday.

Locals interviewed said life has become unbearable because they only depend on tourism which collapsed five months ago due to the pandemic.

Even boda boda operators say there is no business because the restaurants and hotels are shut. They want the government to reduce some of the Covid-19 restrictions to attract tourists.

(edited by o. owino)