When Covid-19 hit Kenya in March last year, meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) became the country's lifeline as the travel and tourism industry took a beating.
But it was just for a while. Although the industry's worst year in living memory ended with hope, things changed again when the government announced new containment measures on June 30.
As the new wave ravaged the nation, the government suspended all public gatherings and tourism is yet again bearing the brunt of the pandemic. The peak season begins this month and massive layoffs loom in the sector.
Meetings that had been scheduled to take place in August and September have been cancelled abruptly, leaving hotels empty. Hoteliers are now counting huge losses and others are contemplating selling their businesses.
Many have received 100 per cent cancellations and are now depending on business from non-governmental organisations.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe banned all public gatherings and in-person meetings on June 30, saying the transmission of the virus is likely in crowded places.
"All public gatherings and in-person meetings of whatever nature are suspended countrywide, all governments including intergovernmental meetings should henceforth be converted to either virtual or postponed," said Mr Kagwe.
He said the number of positive cases had risen sharply, signalling an urgent need to review and emphasise the mitigation measures.
Tough health protocols
"It's sad. The ban has come at a very bad time, many meetings have been cancelled. We had many Mice bookings. These were government conferences that were scheduled to be conducted between August and September. Things were looking up," said the Kenya
Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast executive Sam Ikwaye.
Hoteliers are crying foul over the tough health protocols, questioning why politicians are allowed to conduct rallies.
"Hotels have done well in terms of adhering to the protocols. When the pandemic began, we had cases of people coming for meetings and when going back, the entire team would test positive. But since November last year, we have had many big conferences with no single positive case traced to our establishments," said Dr Ikwaye.
The region had enjoyed Mice business from different professions and organisations, including teachers, saccos, accountants and human resource managers.
Last week, the Coast enjoyed a tourism boom despite the pandemic, with 70 per cent occupancy. "We must point a finger at our politicians. Every time we have political activities, we record a surge," said Dr Ikwaye.
Plaza Beach Hotel marketing manager Daniel Ogechi said the establishment has lost more than Sh2 million from two cancelled meetings.
"That's a huge loss, but we are enforcing Covid-19 protocols," Mr Ogechi told the Nation.
Scaled down staff
At Travellers Beach Hotel and Club, the general manager, Mr Hilary Siele, said the hotel had lost about Sh10 million from cancelled meetings.
"Bed occupancy has declined from 65 per cent to below 40 per cent. We are now depending on business travellers and walk-ins. Weddings have been cancelled. We have lost government and parastatal meetings," he said.
In Nyanza and Western region, Lake Victoria Tourism Association (LVTA) chairman Robinson Anyal said a number of operators closed their premises while others have scaled down their staff.
He said the restrictions imposed in the region in June worsened the situation. Although the government lifted the 7pm to 4am curfew, things were yet to stabilise, he said.
Mr Anyal said the use of third party service providers like Jumia and Glovo for food deliveries has started picking up as members explore ways of increasing sales.
"We started online food deliveries to stay afloat. Food makes up 30 per cent of our sales," said Wigot Garden Hotel Manager Phelix Owiti.
Cold Springs Hotel managing director Joseph Ndong said some employees had been laid off to cut costs.
At Golf Hotel in Kakamega County, bookings for conferencing have dropped by 30 percent. Ms Maureen Njuru, a manager, said many clients had resorted to virtual meetings.
In Kisii, a hotel owner, Mr Boaz Nyangenya, said many players were walking a tightrope and on the verge of despair. He was forced to lay off staff.
Struggling to stay afloat
He praised President Uhuru Kenyatta's economic stimulus programme, which he said had gone a long way in keeping the country afloat during the pandemic.
In Mt Kenya, most hotels are struggling to stay afloat while others are yet to reopen since March last year.
Nyeri's Golden Gates Hotel cancelled five conferences booked from August 1, said the general manager, Ms Sarah Maina.
A spot-check by the Nation shows top establishments have kept their doors shut despite their international status.
In Nyeri County, three hotels have shut down because of lack of business. The Green Hills Hotel, which has been on-and-off since the pandemic hit the nation, closed its operations in March this year.
The iconic Outspan Hotel, which is also a museum for the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, closed its doors in April last year. It's a national monument and an international landmark as it hosts Paxtu, where Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founded the movement, lived.
The iconic Treetops Hotel also stopped operations in the same month. It was where Queen Elizabeth II was staying in 1952 when she learnt about the death of her father, King George IV.
The hotel had been attracting an increasing number of international tourists until last year, when things went south. Treetops Hotel and Outspan are managed by the Board of Aberdare Safari Hotels Ltd.
Reported by Winnie Atieno, Victor Raballa, Benson Amadala, Benson Ayienda and Mercy Mwende