NAIROBI, Kenya May 4 – As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to have a harsh impact on the tourism and travel sector with the closure of hotels and stalled operations of the aviation sector, among those in the lowest chain are the travel agents who are bearing the worst brunt.
A section of the travel agents in Kenya are decrying huge losses caused by refusal by airlines to refund air tickets of flights that were cancelled as a result of the global pandemic that has claimed more than 250,000 people.
While acknowledging that the entire sector has felt the impact of the pandemic, Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) Board Member Joseph Kithitu told Capital Business that travel agents have been hard hit by the failure of airlines to refund tickets which have created a cash flow challenge for them and their corporate clients.
“Travel agents on the travel sector have been hit very hard since they no longer issue flight tickets thus resulting in direct loss of business and cancellation of the tickets earlier issued which the airlines have refused to refund. This decision by airlines not to refund canceled tickets is a significant cash flow problem for the agents and their corporate clients,” he said.
Kithitu, who is also the Express Travel Group Director Of Finance further reiterated that the hotel sector is among the worst-hit areas despite the Government move to allow restaurants to re-open under strict measures
He faulted the effectiveness of the new guidelines saying most restaurants could face difficulties with expensive costs to comply which will outdo the cost of operations.
“This sounds good from the look of it, however, the regulations that the government has put in place are quite tough and expensive to implement. The cost of opening under the COVID19 regulations is more than running the business. In view of the above this move will not result in increased business for the hotels,” he said.
The aviation industry is among the worst affected sector globally. The International Air Transport Association( IATA) has predicted that travel will pick up gradually from the fourth quarter of 2020 with the airline industry returning expected to bounce back 2022-2023.
“There will be consolidation across all areas of travel and tourism with airlines being one of many sectors where some businesses will not survive,” Kithitu said.
The future of travel now and Post COVID 19, he predicted, will see the domestic travel rebound faster than international citing the reopening of businesses in China which has emerged from the worst stages of the pandemic.
He said that travelers should brace for more expenses in travel since airlines and airport operators will impose stringent health guidelines.
“Travel restrictions will be in place since social distancing is bound to become the norm along with stringent health screening for travelers at airports. All this adds up to higher costs for airport operators and airlines and therefore higher fares for travelers,” the KATA board member noted.
In order to mitigate the harsh impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector, he pointed out that KATA is planning to engage with the government to ensure tax measures in place are favorable together with other regulations to boost the comeback of business.
“KATA is in constant engagement with government through the Ministry of Tourism to ensure proper systems are being put in place to ensure the business bounces back,” Kithitu said.
As the Express Travel Group Finance director, he said his firm will deploy technology as the key driver in managing its clients’ duty of care related needs post COVID 19.
“We expect a greater move to corporate online booking tools for our corporate clients to reduce cost. We’re pro-actively working with our clients on these initiatives with the help of technology solutions we have access to through our partnership with Travel Leaders Group,” he said.
He urged the Government to incentivize international airlines back to Kenya and ensure they re-introduce these routes as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted.
“They are private businesses who will only re-start the most profitable routes so we must find a way to put Kenya to the top of that list,” he said.