Optimism is gradually creeping back in the hospitality industry in Tsavo and Amboseli game parks as hotels that closed because of Covid-19 pandemic began opening their doors to visitors three months after they halted operations.
Some of the hotels that have already resumed operations include Sagalla Lodge, Ashnil Aruba and Voi Wildlife Lodge.
Other facilities are in the process of complying with government protocols on hotel reopening before they are certified as ready to receive visitors.
Mr Augustine Mwanake, the manager for Voi Wildlife Lodge, said business remained precarious as visitors trickled in.
He said the hotel opened a week ago after meeting the stringent requirements by the health officials meant to maintain safety for clients.
Part of the requirements involve testing of all the workers and rigorous training on operational procedure to ensure highest safety standards for everyone.
“We are hopeful that with the reopening, we will receive more guests. We have complied with all the requirements by the health officials,” he said.
Others managers said they are waiting for the government to open the airspace for the country to start receiving international tourists.
Mr David Gaitho, Manager Sagalla Lodge, said everyone was looking forward to a better half of 2020.
He noted that the industry had suffered significant losses from the closure but predicted it will recover with adequate support from stakeholders.
“We are also open after we got cleared by relevant agencies. Visitors can come back,” he said.
The closure of hotels in March has been a tale of losses, anxiety, despair and tears. Apart from massive loss of income, the hotels were also forced to slash down on the workers with over 90 per cent of the ordinary staff being sent away. Most hotels retained a skeleton staff for the most basic of operations like security, cleaners and grounds men.
Still, the hotels are not out of the woods yet as some challenges persist. The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), which was a key transporter of local tourists in Tsavo hotels, will not be operating inter-county trains. Kenya Railway announced SGR will operate express trains that will ply between Nairobi and Mombasa without making stops in the stations in-between.
In the past, hundreds of visitors alighted at Voi SGR station where they were picked up by vehicles from hotels.
Alex Maina, a taxi driver who was contracted to pick visitors from the station by one of the hotels, says inter-county train service was a big boost to the local economy.
“The resumption of train journeys should also include inter-county. Many people want to come to Tsavo and they should be allowed. Taking them to Mombasa and Nairobi will mean they must then come back by road,” he explained.
The government is also yet to lift the restrictions on international air travel with only the local flights being allowed to operate.
Mr Willy Mwadilo, the chairperson of Hoteliers in Tsavo and Amboseli, said bed-occupancy in hotels in the region was still low but showed a promise of picking up. Mwadilo, who is the manager of Taita Hills and Salt Lick Safari Lodges, noted that most of the other hotels were busy complying with health protocols before they started operating.
“Everyone is upbeat that we will soon get back to our feet. With the gradual opening up, we look forward to better months ahead,” he said.