NAIROBI – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said earlier this month that the country’s tourism, the sector hit hardest by COVID-19, was now on a recovery path after months of downturn.
Kenyatta, who spoke during a virtual meeting with elite Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya’s new goodwill ambassador for tourism, expressed satisfaction with the measures being taken by stakeholders in the hospitality sector to protect tourists from the pandemic.
“Safety is not really just a government issue. It is an individual choice. To remain safe and by so doing, keep everybody else safe,” he said in a statement issued after the meeting.
Kenyatta urged Kenyans and visitors to continue observing outbreak-containment protocols.
Kipchoge was in the Masai Mara Game Reserve with his family to witness this year’s annual wildebeest migration.
The president says Kenya is ready to receive tourists and encouraged local and foreign travelers to take advantage of the prevailing low rates to visit the country’s famous sites.
“We have also opened up our skies, and flights are coming. We welcome all those who choose to come,” he says.
The East African nation’s tourism sector had slumped to its lowest level in decades following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, as restrictions put in place locally and internationally curtailed travel.
Since March, the sector has lost 81.8 billion shillings ($770 million), roughly half of its average annual revenue, Tourism Minister Najib Balala says.
The pandemic had literally grounded the industry to a halt, with over 2.3 million employees sent home, a majority on unpaid leave and the lucky ones receiving half pay.
All the top hotels, lodges and destinations were shut down over the past months as they grappled with the lack of visitors.
During the meeting, Kipchoge said he was grateful to represent his country as a tourism goodwill ambassador and assured the president that he will do his best to promote the country as a top travel destination.
Balala says hotels in the Maasai Mara were fully booked, mostly by local tourists, for the current high season and encourages Kenyans and inbound travelers to visit destinations across the country.