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Kilifi tourism players 'chat all day' as sector feels coronavirus heat

Flights to and from high-risk countries have been cancelled, hotel reservations cancelled

In Summary

• Trader says she had 28 passengers who had booked for transfer, flight and bookings for car hire at Sh600,000, cancelled after coronavirus broke out. 

• Health CEC says county has identified five isolation centres for every subcounty adding that they will hold forums in tourist resorts to educate everyone. 

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened to cause huge losses to beach and tour operators in Kilifi county.

Most businesses, particularly in Malindi and Watamu, rely on tourists from Italy who are no longer able to travel after flights were cancelled by the government in efforts to control the spread of the virus.

The pandemic has killed more than 5,000 people and affected more than 138,432 others worldwide. So far, the impact is felt by tour and beach operators, restaurant owners, curio sellers and massage parlours among others. 

Terry Kisemo, a tour operator who deals with car hire, said business has gone down as most hotels have closed shop due to coronavirus.

Speaking in Malindi, she said many hotel reservations have been cancelled leading to declining demand for her services. 

"Normally, the season ends in April but now it has ended early making it hard to cope." 

Kisemo said she had bookings up to March 28 but all were cancelled both in the UK and Italy. She had 28 passengers who had booked for transfer, flight and bookings for car hire at Sh600,000, she said.

She said 10 tourists were told to leave early or extend their stay for 15 days in measures to contain the virus.

The situation is expected to worsen since Kenya reported the first coronavirus case on Friday causing panic countrywide. 

However, Kilifi Health CEC Omar Anisa has said they are not taking chances in preventing the spread of the virus to the county that is a major tourist destination.

Anisa said they have identified five isolation centres for every subcounty adding that they will hold forums in tourist resorts to educate everyone on the symptoms of the virus and how to stay safe. 

A spot check on the beaches of Malindi revealed countable foreign tourists against the normal high season witnessed each year. 

At Blue Key Beach in Malindi, restaurants owned by locals were empty while women who massage and sell curios and recycled products such as pareo and khanga were not recording any sales.

John Ndago, who owns Yakutsi beach restaurant said tourist numbers have gone down.

"We mostly deal with Italians in Malindi and Watamu but since coronavirus, the numbers have dropped those who are here are afraid. We fear even those coming may infect us because they are from Italy where the high cases of the virus have been recorded," he said.

He said some of the locals working in Italy are stranded as they cannot go back due to a lack of flights.  

Selina Iha who has a beach restaurant said she has not been able to sell anything and does not know how she will pay her staff. 

Speaking at the restaurant while in the company of other curio sellers, she said they now spend the entire day chatting as there are no clients.

Iha said coronavirus has affected her as food cooked lasts the whole day without a consumer.

"Previously we used to sell everything, including sodas but now even the refrigerators are full, by evening I have to pay electricity and no tourists came to buy," she said.

Iha appealed to Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala to intervene and help the women operating on the beach.

"The last time we had a high turn out of guests was December. Now you can get only one guest who will even refuse greetings because of the fear of coronavirus." 

Umi Mkambe who runs a massage parlour said since coronavirus broke out, she has also become afraid of handling clients for fear of being contaminated.

Mkambe said they are currently stranded and asked the government to intervene so as to bring normalcy or help them open other businesses away from tourism.

Previously, Mkambe said she used to massage up to seven or eight clients in a day. Now she can go a whole day without seeing a client, she said. 

Currently, she said they spend most time sharing stories on coronavirus. 

Edited by R.Wamochie