Tourism players have warned that the ongoing flights standoff between Kenya and Tanzania over travel restrictions will have far reaching implications on the sector and the aviation industry.
The players have, therefore, urged Kenya to reconsider its stance regarding Tanzanian travellers, who are required to quarantine for 14 days when they come to Nairobi.
Travellers from other countries are just required to present Covid-19 free certificate awarded in under 96 hours.
The tourism players led by the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) Mohammed Hersi said the treatment given to Tanzanians is bound to adversely affect tourism and aviation sectors.
The diplomatic row, they added, will complicate efforts aimed at reviving the sagging fortunes of Kenya Airways which has already been banned from Tanzania. Last week, Dar es Salaam banned three more Kenyan airlines.
Kenyan government, Mr Hersi noted, erred in its decision on Tanzanian travellers.
“This time round we are on the wrong and we should quietly swallow our pride and fix this problem. As long as we continue to exclude Tanzania from the list of the countries that can visit Kenya without being quarantined then they will continue doing this and I won’t be surprised if this ends with border closure,” warned Mr Hersi.
The KTF chair said the requirement of Covid-19 free certificate should apply to all travellers.
“Why did we exclude Tanzania? It was an ill-advised move. We cannot have our cake and at the same time eat it. If Tanzania is not good enough to be on the list then they just did the natural thing of stopping us also,” he said.
“We cannot be going to a neighbour as we wish but choose not to reciprocate.”
The travel feud started after Nairobi said passengers from Tanzania had to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the country. Tanzania retaliated by banning Kenya national carrier Kenya Airways. Later Tanzanian authorities also nullified the approval granted to three other Kenyan airlines; Fly 540, Air Kenya Express and Safarilink Aviation that operate daily flights to the tourist destinations of Dar, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar.
Further, the Tanzania-based Air Precision cancelled planned resumption of flights to Nairobi just days after the government said it would not deny them traffic rights amid the ongoing standoff between the two countries.
Kenya Airways had a permit to fly 14 times to Dar es Salaam every week, three times to Kilimanjaro and two times to Zanzibar, mostly ferrying tourists and business travelers between the two destinations. Kenya and Tanzania have also been involved in retaliatory border blockades which affected thousands of truckers and businesses.
The Kenyan government, has however, dug in, reiterating its stand that all tourists categorized high-risk visiting the country including Tanzanians will have to undergo 14 days quarantine.
Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, said all borders are still closed but those visiting through international airports must abide by the health regulations.
“Our road borders are still closed but our airspace is opened for both local and international tourists. However, we have categories from World Health Organization including high, medium and low risk travellers. High risk travellers must be quarantined for 14 days,” said Mr Balala who was responding to queries in a webinar session on whether Tanzanians are allowed into the country through Namanga border.
The webinar with Africa tourism stakeholders from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and other countries deliberated on reopening the East Africa circuit
Mr Hersi said Kenya Airways will be adversely affected by the conflict since it cannot fly to a lucrative Nairobi-Dar route as KLM, Qatar, Emirates and Ethiopian airlines reap from the Tanzania.
“Tanzania is our biggest trading partner and we share one of the longest borders and we speak the same national language. I appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta to step in and help resolve this. With one call I believe he can do it,” he said.
In a departure from Kenya’s move, Tanzania Tourists Board managing director, Devota Mdachi said the country does not quarantine any of its tourists who produce Covid-19 free certificate.
“We are coming up with a strategy to promote the regional tourism sector. We are happy that the private tourism sector has come up with special rates to promote domestic tourism,” she said.
Ms Mdachi said in May, Serengeti national park received less than 20 international tourists due to the effects of the pandemic but at the end of July, 870 tourists visited the country to witness wildebeest migration.
“Tanzania has a story to tell Africa and the world. We took a stand to ensure safety and health of our people as our doors remained opened. A task force was set up to implement standard operating procedure which has really helped us. Schools were shut; we sensitized our citizens on how to live with the virus. We are the first country to open up,” she said.
Mr Balala said the measures Kenya has put in place will help stop importation of the virus.
“In Kenya we had almost a three-month lockdown; other countries have done it while some were soft about it. But the total lockdown was required and that is exactly what we in Kenya and most of East African countries did to stop importation of the virus which was crucial,” Mr Balala said.
He urged African nations to harmonize the protocols, coordinate them well and open the borders responsibly.
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