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Kenya's tourism sees trickle of post-pandemic recovery

Birds Paradise Souvenir Shop, Nairobi   -  
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Chisel and hammer in hand, this artist carves out a design.

From tribal figures to African wildlife, the finished results are popular keepsakes for tourists visiting Kenya. But amid a pandemic, the demand for these objects has plummeted.

At the Birds Paradise Souvenir Shop in Nairobi, Karen Mumbe is organising the stock. There used to be 20 people who worked here.

But after the global travel industry went into shutdown, that has been reduced to seven - and wages have been slashed.

"Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, tourists reduced completely, we closed the shop and we were laid off. Then in January we were recalled but our boss had to pay us half the salary," says Mumbe.

"So this COVID-19 has affected many things, even our lives have been worse off. We pray to God that this pandemic ends, or everyone gets vaccinated so that business can get back to normal."

Vaccines gave a glimmer of hope that the pandemic could be snuffed out and the tourism industry could get back to business.

But the more infectious Delta variant has put that in doubt, bringing with it a new wave of infections to Kenya and the rest of the world.

Still, at the Great Rift Valley View Point, Kiambu county, a small trickle of tourists has returned to admire the scenic views.

Kurt Schults hopes to visit the Masai Mara National Park to see the wildebeest migration.

"We are actually going through a third wave and it's the delta variant. A lot more people seems to be getting infected by it, I've lost family members, I've lost friends, all due to this," he says.

"But the only positive thing is now we are vaccinating the population. So the older people have been vaccinated, now the middle aged men have been vaccinated and slowly but surely the young people are getting vaccinated. So hopefully once everyone gets vaccinated, things will get a bit better."

Simon Kabu, manager of Bonfire Adventure tours and travel company, says tourist numbers have dropped 80 percent since the pandemic but he's now seeing business pick up.

He's doing everything he can to mitigate the risks.

"We have made sure most of our crew are vaccinated, secondly, at least we regularly and periodically test the crew and our staff, thirdly we make sure that we have reduced the capacity of the vehicle carrying capacity from 8 to maximum of 7 so that we maintain the social distance, we provide sanitizers on board, and we are able to keep track of our cars so that we are able to know where they are from, all that, and we are able to liaise with the Ministry of Tourism to make sure that all MOH (Ministry of Health) protocols are observed," he says.

It's a similar story at the Kenya Wildlife Service gates.

All guests are now ushered through a series of steps designed to reduce the possibility of virus transmission.

Hand washing, sanitizing and temperature checking are just part of the routine now.

Edwin Wanyonyi, Director in charge of Tourism Strategy at Kenya Wildlife Service, says they closely track who is here.

"Now we are keeping records of our visitors to our parks. So that if there is anything we are aware who has come in to the park, and this now will make our parks much more safer, both for the guests, for our staff and of course for our wildlife."

Kenya has been reliant on donations of vaccines for its inoculation drive.

So far it has administered more than 2.1 million doses, with 1.42 percent of its population being fully vaccinated, according to the John Hopkins University.

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