Masai Mara investors fault tourism budget allocations for recovery

Hoteliers and tour operators in the Masai Mara Game Reserve now say it was still early to allocate huge sums of money in marketing Kenya when the pandemic is still ravaging its traditional markets.

They argue that it will take more than two years after Covid-19 for tourism to rebound.

The players are asking the government to reallocate the Sh2.8 billion earmarked for marketing and renovation of hotels in the 2021/22 budget towards supporting players in tourism who have been hard hit by coronavirus.

Most hoteliers, travel agents and tour operators are in huge debts, adding that the money could have been disbursed to them to enable them get back to their feet.

“”It’s too early to allocate resources towards promoting tourism. The resurgence of the epidemic in Europe and China —our biggest markets— is a clear indication that travel would not resume soon,” said Lily Waddington,  proprietor of Osero Eco Camp in the Mara and owner of the UK-based Magical Safaris.

“The funds should be used to help hoteliers, travel agents and tour operators retire loans and boost domestic tourism,” she said.

Waddington said Treasury should have also reduced tax on jet fuel, landing fees and entry fees for parks under Kenya Wildlife Service.

“We need lower taxes on building materials for construction of lodges and tented camps to prepare for gradual resumption of local and international travel instead of going for marketing and refurbishment of hotels under KWS,” she added

Incentives to hoteliers and other players in the tourism industry is a matter of priority.

“All hotels in national parks and game reserves were affected by closure of airspace and thereafter floods in April and May and it is incumbent of the State to assist owners get back to their feet,”  she said.

“Hotels have to be brought to the international standards before opening the industry to foreign arrivals.

The government has to think out of the box and plan to promote local tourism,” she said .

Joseph Keiwua, national chairman of Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels and Allied Workers, says more than 200,000 hotel workers and their dependants are suffering.

He asked Treasury to help them via gradual resumption of business and giving hotels tax holidays to recoup losses.

“Instead of giving out money now when the pandemic is at its peak, plight of those who lost livelihoods should be addressed. It’s not time to direct funds to long term endeavours,” he said.

Peter Kisemei, Liason Officer of Masai Mara Conservancies Association says landowners have since April not received money from lodges who leased their land.

Poverty will afflict them if sresumption of business is not in the cards, he said.

“The situation is dire. Infrastructure in the conservancies are decaying. If the economy is not opened up after the current curfew expires and climate of doing business made favourable to local investors, families which depend directly on revenue from tourism, will be hit hard,” Kisemei said.

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