• Fear of coronavirus spread belies relief at hope of return to lost jobs
On August 1, many of us waited with waited breath as we watched the news of the first international flights landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
It felt unreal that there was excitement for the incoming flights. For something that was so ordinary a few months ago, it felt surreal. After four months of closing our borders to the international community, Kenyans abroad and tourists were allowed back in the country.
I, for one, was glued to the screen, watching travellers deplane with the utmost anxiety. As a long distance couple, my husband and I have been anxious to be reunited for several months. Since the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been forced to stay in two different countries until the travel bans were lifted.
The success of the first international planes to arrive in Kenya, without any complications due to the coronavirus, gave us hope of a long-awaited reunion. Although the coast is clear for planes to take off, it felt like a completely different ballgame when we resumed our travel plans.
For starters, as much as I am excited to see my husband after many months of being separated, I cannot help being uneasy that travel might not only expose him to the virus but also to the stress that has become the new normal for travelling. For instance, one must take a Covid-19 test at least 72 hours before take-off. Travellers must also wear masks throughout the flight. As someone who suffers from severe airsickness, I can just imagine the terror people like me will face travelling with a mask on.
The news that the borders will be opened to the international community was not received well by everyone in the country. There are those who fear the rising number of corona cases in Kenya will increase exponentially if foreigners are allowed in the country since there has been no significant success in curbing the virus at home and abroad. While their concern is valid, there is also an urgency to get the ball moving as we try to rev the economy back to full swing.
The tourism and hospitality sectors have arguably received the biggest hit during this pandemic. Hotels and restaurants were shut down. Some were shut down while waiting for the wave to pass, while others closed down their businesses permanently. Many staff from the sectors lost their jobs, while others were placed on mandatory leave for the period. Opening the borders has given these people hope of returning to their jobs in the once-thriving industry.
In the midst of planning a getaway within the country, I got in touch with several contacts I made in the hospitality sector while travelling the country. Two out of three people I communicated with have still not been reassigned to work. As the tourism sector is now only a few days into opening its doors for local and domestic travellers, the chances of hotels being busy are low. As such, most staff have been put on mandatory leave as they wait for business to pick up.
The tourism industry has been so desperate to get back to action that several hotels and resorts are offering great deals for locals. This is a great time for us to help lift each other up as well as play a crucial role in reviving our economy.
For those who can afford to, check with your travel agents for the amazing deals on domestic tourism. For those who missed to eat out, do not forget to tip hospitality staff that have been out of work for the past few months. Let us not count on foreigners only to help revive the tourism sector. We are better off lifting each other up.