Feature: Kenyan hoteliers struggle to stay afloat amid new COVID restrictions

Source: Xinhua| 2021-04-08 19:09:27|Editor: huaxia
Video PlayerClose

NAIROBI, April 8 (Xinhua) -- Yunis Adan rose through the ranks at Pronto Restaurant located in the bustling downtown section of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi at a time when his youthful energy and vitality was a huge asset at his busy workstation.

The suave deputy manager of one of Nairobi's renowned and sleek eateries said that he has nostalgic memories of the pre-pandemic era when the hotel business was booming and career mobility for young employees was guaranteed.

Adan said the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya in mid-March 2020 took a heavy toll on hotels and restaurants amid restricted movements in the virus hotspots like Nairobi combined with reduced operating hours.

"We have been through a rough patch in the last one year and when some light was appearing at the end of the dark tunnel, the third COVID-19 wave of infections that was reported in the country in early March unleashed tremors on our business," Adan told Xinhua during a recent interview.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 26 placed Nairobi and other four counties deemed COVID-19 hotspots on new lockdowns besides suspending the operation of bars, sale of alcohol in restaurants, and extending night-time curfew that impacted negatively on revenue generated by eateries.

Adan said the new and more stringent measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 have rolled back modest gains the hotel industry had made in the last couple of months when some normalcy had resumed in the country.

"The business was picking up before the new measures were announced and we had planned to revamp our operations to meet the changing demands of our clients besides improving our employees' welfare," said Adan.

He said that Pronto Restaurant that is renowned for its sumptuous indigenous dishes, ambience and sleek interior design survived the first and second waves of COVID-19 infections thanks to innovation and ability to connect with customers.

According to Adan, the third wave has tested the resilience of the popular eating joint to the limit amid a drastic slump in the number of clients and rising operating expenditure.

"To be honest, our business is struggling. We have five branches in Nairobi's central business district and each employed about 70 people," said Adan.

"Currently, we have scaled down on the number of employees from 70 to only seven in every branch since the new restrictions to combat the pandemic were announced," he added.

Adan said that investors in the hotel industry are fully supportive of the government's efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic but would like some flexibility to enable them to resume business.

"We are ready to abide by the ministry of health protocols on curbing the spread of COVID-19 and request the government to ease some restrictions, enabling us to expand sitting capacity in order to generate enough revenue to pay rent and salaries for employees," said Adan.

Kenya's hospitality sector, described as one of the most vibrant in the East African region, has in the last fortnight struggled to stay afloat amid limited operating hours and sitting capacity.

Five-star hotels, mid-sized restaurants and small eateries located in the five COVID-19 hotspots of Nairobi, Machakos, Kajiado, Nakuru and Kiambu counties, are on the verge of closure amid a drastic slump in the number of clients.

Francis Musyoka, a manager of a new restaurant located at a busy intersection in downtown Nairobi said that more than 70 percent reduction in the number of loyal clients has forced the proprietor to innovate in the face of turbulence.

"It is true the new COVID-19 containment measures announced by the president have shaken our business to the core and we have been forced to look for innovative ways to stay afloat," said Musyoka.

"As I speak, some of our employees are moving from office to office to canvass for orders since even takeaways are not enough to meet our operating cost," he added.

Musyoka said that hoteliers consider themselves loyal allies to the government in the COVID-19 war and are demanding some easing of restrictions to enable their businesses to survive the new headwinds.

"Many of us are ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and abide by all the ministry of health protocols to minimize the spread of the virus, flatten the curve and reopen businesses," said Musyoka.

He said that hotels and restaurants in downtown Nairobi have placed sanitizer booths at the entrance, observed social distancing, ensured diners wear masks and their temperatures taken in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Vincent, an employee of a small eatery located in downtown Nairobi said the third wave of COVID-19 infections has placed enormous pressure on Kenya's travel and hospitality sectors.

"We are barely surviving and our only request to the government is to commence gradual reopening of the country soon in order for our businesses to operate at a reasonable capacity," said Vincent who declined to disclose his second name. Enditem