Kenya’s domestic tourism on recovery path amid COVID-19 pandemic
The chirping sound of forest birds, babbling of river over smooth rocks and the sight of monkeys jumping from one branch to the other is what motivates Stella Thome to keep going back to Karura Forest located on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
The 30-year-old woman has been frequenting the forest more often after she found herself with fewer outdoor activities she can take part in amid restricted movement occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
“Staying in the house for long hours without going outside started to take a toll on my whole family, I observed that my boys got easily agitated and frequently bickered. Visits to the forest were therapeutic,” Thome told Xinhua during an interview on Thursday.
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) said in a recent report that the country’s forests and woodlands have recorded an increase in foot traffic during the pandemic.
Karura forest reserve and Ngong hills forest have each witnessed increased visits especially during the weekends, a factor associated with the need for people to escape the confines of their houses.
“The stillness of the forest is refreshing and a change from the bustling activities of the city. My boys can ride bikes in designated trails without fear of running into an oncoming vehicle,” said Thome.
She said that by exploring the sprawling forest she has claimed her mental, emotional and physical health back and looks forward to making many more visits to the biodiversity hotspot.
Karura forest has taken tentative steps to ensure that the green space does not become a breeding ground for COVID-19 by screening the temperature of guests, encouraging cashless payment and discouraging eating in the park which extends to holding gatherings.
“We do not allow anyone to enter the forest with food and in addition to that, we have sealed all the seats around the park to discourage physical contact among the guests,” said a female scout at the forest.
“I want to encourage Kenyans to come and enjoy what the forest has to offer, with a reasonable entry fee of 100 shillings (about 0.94 U.S. dollar) and nobody should be left out,” she added.
Earlier this month, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) reviewed its entry fees to major parks downward in a move geared at reviving the tourism industry that has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We appreciate that this move will encourage both local and international tourists to stay longer in the parks because the longer they stay the more business they give to the tour guides, hotels and lodges, curio dealers and support the local economy,” Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife told reporters in Mombasa.
The tourism sector in the country has experienced a downturn triggered by the global pandemic which saw the sector lose 850 million dollars since the pandemic was reported in mid-March.
Chelsea Amani, a graduate in the field of tours and travel has found herself enjoying the scenic at Ngong Hills, located on the southwestern edges of Nairobi.
The site provides her with a beautiful background for her photographs.
“Visiting green spaces is definitely outside my experience as I am accustomed to malls and other indoor amusement spaces however I am enjoying the fresh air and the tranquility provided by nature,” said Amani.
She said that she looked forward to touring other parks and forests outside the capital city soon.
The resumption of domestic flights last week and international travel slated for August 1 is expected to boost the recovery of Kenya’s tourism sector.
The move by the government has been lauded by stakeholders who are expecting to cash in on the ongoing wildbeest migration at the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve that attracts thousands of tourists every year.
“I am anticipating that business will pick up soon especially with the wildebeest migration happening. I have reviewed the cost of game drives to woo customers,” said Tom Mulonzi, the owner of Safari Plus tours.
Dubbed one of the wonders of the world, the wildebeest migration is a sight to behold, as huge herds of wildebeests cross the Mara River from Serengeti, Tanzania to Kenya’s Maasai Mara amid confusion and fear of being devoured by predators inside the river.
“I have been advertising my services on social media and I have noted interest from some Kenyans, I hope to take as many Kenyans as possible to experience the magnificent spectacle,” said Mulonzi.
Mulonzi also planned to take a COVID-19 test in the near future given that he would be having close engagements with clients while exuding confidence that the industry will experience a full recovery.