Tourism stakeholders in Lamu county have expressed fears over the reinstatement of mandatory wearing of face masks, saying it will negatively impact their businesses.
On Monday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe announced the return of masks in enclosed or confined spaces owing to the rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases.
In March this year, the government announced that mandatory wearing of face masks had been lifted among other Covid-19 safety measures.
During a meeting that brought together hoteliers, restaurateurs, tour guides and boat operators, many felt the recent announcement by Kagwe was unjustified and hurried.
The stakeholders said such regulations are likely to scare tourists and injure the sector, which is yet to recover.
There has been a reduced number of tourists owing to the current low season.
Normally, the low tourism season in the Coast including Lamu begins in April and ends in July.
Lamu hotelier Abdirazak Ali blamed the government for being hasty in its initial decision to lift the use of face masks in public.
“They are re-introducing the use of face masks now and it’s definitely going to hurt tourism here because we are in the low season and any small change will cost us,” Ali said.
He said the announcement has already seen an exodus of tourists from Lamu, who are fearing another Covid outbreak.
“Many are leaving after Kagwe’s announcement because they think another Covid-19 wave is coming. It’s a loss for us because our businesses depend on tourists,” he said.
Hotelier Ahmed Shali said his hotel has witnessed a series of booking cancellations from tourists after the announcement.
Lamu Tourism Association chairperson Ghalib Alwy said re-introducing Covid-19 regulations is both confusing and discouraging for tourists and industry players.
He urged governments to employ measures to ensure the tourism sector is cushioned from the aftermath of the pandemic.
“We need a resuscitation plan to help the sector stay afloat and cushion us from further loss of clients. This is a sector that offers employment to millions of Kenyans,” Alwy said.
They also urged residents and politicians to focus on peaceful elections.
“Peace and stability are crucial for the growth of tourism and the development of our economy,” Alwy said.
Tourism is a major income earner for Lamu with hundreds of families directly dependent on it for survival.
Major tourism hubs include Lamu Old Town, Ras Kitau, Shella, Matondoni, Kipungani, Kiwayu, Kizingitini, Faza, Pate, Mkokoni, Ndau, Kiunga and Ishakani.