Feature: Kenyan coastal city's traders optimistic of post-pandemic tourism recovery

2021-02-05 16:35:31 GMT2021-02-06 00:35:31(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

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NAIROBI, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Selina Ngala's business acumen has earned admiration among her peers at one of the busiest open air markets in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa where she has been selling tropical fruits for many years to local and foreign tourists.

The young mother said that a loyal clientele base of domestic and overseas tourists, armed with disposable income fuelled growth of her fruits business in Kenya's second largest city renowned for its scenic attractions.

Ngala said her business was on a growth trajectory until the onset of COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, 2020 when the tourism sector experienced a downturn amid suspension of flights and lockdowns.

"When the country reported the first COVID-19 case, my business suffered since tourists who comprise the bulk of my customers stopped visiting Mombasa," Ngala told Xinhua.

"I used to sell a crate of ripe bananas and mangoes before the onset of the pandemic. The financial losses were significant but we are still hopeful there will be light at the end of a dark tunnel," She added.

Ngala said that she was optimistic that her fortunes will be restored soon as tourists start flocking Mombasa to sample its pristine beaches, hospitality and cuisine.

"We hope the pandemic will be contained in the country soon to pave way for more tourist arrivals and boost our income. Majority of market traders are resilient and averse to depending on anyone for sustenance," said Ngala.

She said that an end to night curfews and other COVID-19 containment measures is key to revive her fruits business to enable her to meet household needs.

William Ochieng, a veteran food vendor at an open air market in Mombasa said the pandemic took a heavy toll on his business amid a decline in the number of customers making orders for local delicacies.

"My business was thriving before coronavirus, which was reported in the country early last year. I suffered losses when the government announced curfews and lockdowns in the city of Mombasa to contain the virus," said Ochieng.

He said that meeting the basic needs of his family like food, rent, tuition fees and clothes became a tall order at the height of the pandemic when small businesses in Mombasa and other urban hotspots experienced a downturn.

Ochieng said that he looked forward to easing of COVID-19 containment measures like curfews to accelerate revival of the tourism sector whose spin-off effects are always felt by small-scale traders in Mombasa and adjoining counties.

"We urge the government to intervene on behalf of traders, end the curfews and provide a safe environment to pave way for return of visitors in Mombasa," said Ochieng.

Kenya's tourism sector, which contributes an estimated 10 percent to the country's GDP, was the earliest casualty of COVID-19 related shocks amid decline in revenue and loss of about 2.3 million jobs.

Government statistics indicate the sector lost 85 billion shillings (about 774.4 million U.S. dollars) at the height of the pandemic from March to June, 2020 amid cancellation of hotel bookings and visits to tourist attraction sites.

Najib Balala, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said at a recent briefing the sector was gradually recovering from pandemic shocks, adding that enhanced safety for travelers will be key to hasten its growth.

"We are looking forward to building a more resilient and sustainable tourism sector by restoring traveler confidence while enhancing their safety," said Balala.

On their part, the Mombasa-based traders said they stood to gain from the post-pandemic revival of the tourism sector through selling merchandise, souvenirs and indigenous fruits to well-heeled visitors.

Mwangangi Kinyili, a fresh produce vendor said that high tourist arrivals will be a boon to local merchants dealing with fruits and other delicacies.

"We urge the government to ease the process of clearing visitors to famous tourist destinations in the coast region since it will impact positively on our small-scale businesses," said Kinyili. Enditem