As Kenyans await the resumption of international flights on Saturday, the government is contemplating abolishing the 14-day quarantine policy so as to revive the tourism sector.
So far, four major international airlines — KLM, British Airways, Air France and Qatar Airways — have confirmed they will resume operations in and out of Kenya once the skies reopen.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said health and safety remains Kenya’s top priority as it gradually reopens its economy.
Qatar Airways will resume operations from August 3 with 14 weekly flights whereas Air France will resume on August 6 with one flight to Paris every Friday. British Airways will operate four weekly flights from August 1 whereas KLM will be resuming from August 3 with four weekly flights. Emirates said it will be operating repatriation flights on Tuesday.
This comes as tourism players pile pressure on the government to ease Covid-19 health protocols to lure foreign tourists.
Tourism industry players have insisted that the strict protocols, specifically the 14-day mandatory quarantine, will deter international tourists from visiting Kenya.
But on July 21, Mr Balala said the Ministry of Health alluded to the government’s decision on quarantining international travellers.
“Many countries have not reopened their skies. I talked to Thailand, and they are yet to reopen until September. European countries have also discouraged their citizens from travelling until August. But our Minister of Health will soon announce… perhaps we might not need to quarantine travellers for the 14 days as they arrive in the country,” said Mr Balala.
However, the international travellers will need a certificate to ascertain they do not have the virus. “But wherever they board their flights, they should have been tested and have a Covid-19 free certificate. On arrival, we will have a testing mechanism,” said Mr Balala.
The CS said the move will boost bookings and flights to Kenya.
Earlier, the government had said international travellers would be put in mandatory quarantine for 14 days. But it later rescinded its decision, saying asymptomatic travellers will not be quarantined.
On its part, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) assured the government of its support to revive air travel sector.
“We will do our very best to ensure the tourism, horticulture, agriculture and business travel sectors are revived. The Ministry of Health, doctors and airlines are formulating travelling measures, which we are confident will allow for safe travel,” said Kalpa official Mwenda Mabura during an interview with NTV last week.
Meanwhile, the Kenya Association of Tourism Association Chairman, Ishpal Oberoi, said the local tourism sector has started picking up, especially in Diani, Kilifi and Maasai Mara.
The hotelier, who is also the managing director of Kuldip Touring Company, is optimistic the sector will bounce back once international flights resume. Mr Oberoi said many hotel workers are suffering as the sector continues to reel from the pandemic.
Many tour operators are selling their vehicles at throw-away prices due to lack of business, he added.
“They have decided to sell their vehicles because the future is bleak, and if the sector recovers, we won’t go back to where we were. We have put in place cost controlling measures including unpaid leave for our workers, but still we are reeling from the pandemic,” said Mr Oberoi.
He noted that international tourists are sending emails requesting to visit Kenya, terming it a good sign. On reviving the local tourism sector, the CS said his ministry has slashed entry park fees by 50 per cent to attract Kenyans to visit them.
Last week, hoteliers urged the government to ease Covid-19 health protocols to lure foreign tourists. “You don’t take a holiday to be quarantined, tourists will not come if we emphasis on such strict protocols. Airlines, travelling agents, insurance companies and tour operators will conduct due diligence,” said the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast Executive Sam Ikwaye.
“Why would anyone want to travel to be quarantined for 14 days in a destination? Let’s use the international best practice and see what other destinations have adopted. This is a global issue, we must apply global standards.”