• Reviving the sector has a clear blueprint — implementing a Marshall Plan for the tourism sector that many stakeholders have for years been demanding
• Kenyan hotels and lodges will require the government’s support in the form of concessional loans if they are to reopen in the wake of the catastrophic losses of 2020.
Christian theologians have long recognised the deep human need to rationalise suffering.
As one put it, “The human soul desires to make sense of loss or tragedy. It seems that if purpose can be given to suffering, it can become more bearable.”
This perspective has been on full display in newspaper opinion pages over the last few weeks, as a light has at last appeared on the horizon, and our long dark night of Covid-19 torments at last seems to be approaching an end.
I have lost count of the number of articles I have read that seek to demonstrate there are many potential benefits to be reaped from the grim events of 2020, if only we learn the right lessons from it.
Well, there may indeed, be economic sectors in which various lessons were profitably extracted from the disasters wrought by the pandemic. But surely not all.
If you own a restaurant chain or a brewery, at a time when dining out is effectively banned by government decree, what valuable lesson could you claim to learn from this?
Clearly, all you could do was to try to somehow keep going, even as you waited for better times.
And this is what tourism stakeholders have been doing. Waiting for better times. Although a few hotels have somehow remained open, the bulk of them had to close down, and even now are yet to reopen.
Given the significance of tourism for the national economy, and the sheer number of jobs that it provides, reviving this sector after what was a total collapse in 2020, has to be a priority.
Fortunately, there is a clear blueprint for how this can be done. It lies in implementing what many stakeholders have for years been demanding – a Marshall Plan for the tourism sector.
As many readers will know, the Marshall Plan of 1948, implemented primarily as an anti-communism measure by the US, has long dominated all long-term economic thinking about Africa. For it was the last time when a decisive advance from ruin and despair to great prosperity - the economic revival of an entire continent - was successfully carried out.
Well, what I have in mind here is something much more modest – but it does require an adherence to the ideas which made the Marshall Plan so successful.
When discussing the Marshall Plan, attention tends to focus on the very large sums that the US dedicated to the economic revival of Western Europe. But no less significant were the terms and conditions on which this money was given: removing trade barriers and dropping many of the existing regulations which hindered trade were two of the key conditions.
Now it is true that any number of Kenyan hotels and lodges will require the government’s financial support in the form of concessional loans if they are to reopen in the wake of the catastrophic losses of 2020.
But there are also regulatory steps which can be taken which would make it easy for visitors to come to Kenya, to stay in the facilities available and enjoy the attractions that Kenya offers.
Consider this example:
We currently have restrictions that make it difficult for visitors to come here, such as the requirement for a PCR test taken 96 hours before arriving at JKIA.
Since it takes potential visitors up to three days to have the test and obtain the certificate, and then a further day to fly to Kenya, this makes it exceedingly difficult to comply with the requirement not to exceed 96 hours between time of test and time of arrival.
The unavoidable outcome here is many potential visitors deciding not to travel for fear of failing to meet the deadline and having to go into quarantine on arrival.
Then there are the compulsory electronic visas obtained online with a system that does not always work effectively and has no live help backup for people in the US or elsewhere whose daytime is out of sync with Kenya.
Those visitors who are unable to obtain a Kenyan visa online should still be allowed to obtain them on arrival as was the case until recently.