Kenya tourist destinations safe, Uhuru says amid Covid-19 fight

Sunday August 09 2020
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President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking from State House during a virtual meeting on the tourism sector on August 8, 2020, with Tourism CS Najib Balala, marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and Narok Governor Samuel Tunai. PHOTO | PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta has given the country’s tourist sites a clean bill of health saying they are safe, open and ready for visitors despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The President, who spoke from State House, Nairobi, during a virtual meeting with elite Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and Narok Governor Samuel Tunai, expressed satisfaction with measures taken to protect tourists.

President Kenyatta said Kenya was ready to receive tourists and encouraged local and foreign tourists to take advantage of prevailing low rates while observing guidelines, as part of efforts to rebuild the economy.

He reiterated that movement restrictions were lifted because Kenyans can be responsible and are able to ensure their own safety amid increasing cases of local transmission of the virus.

"Safety is not just a government issue. It is also an individual choice … to remain safe and by so doing, keep everybody else safe," he said.

"I take this opportunity to encourage every single Kenyan to take advantage and travel. You can travel … you can move … and as you know, we have also opened up our skies to flights. We welcome all those who choose to come.”

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AMBASSADOR

Mr Kipchoge is Kenya's new goodwill ambassador for tourism and is in the Masai Mara National Reserve with his family to witness this year's wildebeest migration.

President Kenyatta thanked him for choosing to represent his country as a 'Magical Kenya' brand ambassador, saying this was an act of patriotism.

Mr Kipchoge said he was grateful for the opportunity and assured the President that he would do his best to promote the country as a top travel destination.

He encouraged Kenyans to visit tourist destinations, saying the virus should not limit their exploration of tourist attractions.

The engagement which commenced in July will see Mr Kipchoge promote Kenya as the top tourist destination locally, regionally and internationally through various campaigns.

His presence at the reserve will be broadcasted live on social media pages and mainstream media as it falls on the initial dates for the 2020 Olympic marathon weekend, which was postponed to 2021 due to the virus.

Mr Kipchoge arrived at the Serena Airstrip with his wife and children on Saturday morning.

He will cover 13 kilometers of training on Sunday, accompanied by Tourism officials and Narok rangers, as part of preparations for the October 4 London Marathon.

His run will be the culmination of a four-day tour of a high powered delegation from the ministry to promote the game reserve and launch a domestic tourism drive.

KTB chief executive Betty Radier said the board was pleased to work with the athlete as he is Kenya’s greatest asset and has put the destination on the global map.

She said the government had turned to sporting activities and top local personalities to promote tourism in Kenya.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

CS Balala thanked the President for the Covid-19 stimulus package earmarked.

To cushion the wildlife conservancies in the country from the effects of the coronavirus, the CS told the President that the Sh1 billion set aside for sustainable management of natural resources in 160 community conservancies countrywide would have been disbursed to frontline rangers by September.

The funds, according to Mr Balala, will be used to pay conservancy rangers (80 per cent) while KSh200 million will be put in the conservancies’ revolving fund.

“Each conservancy will get KSh5 million for salaries, which will be deposited into individual’s accounts, while KSh200 million will go to the endowment fund. The conservancies must look into fundraising strategies for sustenance,” he said.

The Cabinet Secretary said hotels in the Mara were fully booked for the high season, mostly by local tourists, and encouraged Kenyans and foreign travellers to sample them.

PRICING

Mr Balala noted that both domestic and international tourism were key to the sector’s recovery.

He said, however, “The international market will take a while to recover. We should therefore bank on domestic and regional travellers. However, affordability and accessibility will play a vital role.”

“If the price is too high, you won’t find locals participating in domestic tourism,” he said in reference to tour operators who charge as much as $300 (KSh3,1950) per trip to destinations such as the Mara.

Industry members must re-engineer products and services to attract domestic tourists, he added.

CS Balala convened the meeting through Magical Kenya and the Kenya Tourism Board.

Others who attended were Tourism Chief Administrative Secretary Joseph Boinnet, principal secretaries Safina Kwekwe (Tourism) and Fred Segor (Wildlife), Kenya Wildlife Service Director-General Brig (Rtd) John Waweru, as well as Athletics Kenya chair Jackson Tuwei.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Tuwei said Athletics Kenya was working with the ministry and other stakeholders in the sector to promote sports tourism.

Governor Tunai said the county was testing all service providers for free to ensure their safety and that of tourists.

He assured the President that strict measures were taken before the Mara was reopened to tourists, including the testing of at least 1,000 of its employees and regular inspection of all facilities by teams from the health and tourism departments.

By Saturday, at least 60 tourism locations had been inspected and given permits to resume operations.

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