Since the emergence of the ‘black swan event’ in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental ripple effect globally and especially on the travel and tourism industry. The United Nations World Travel Organization (UNWTO) emphasized the need to putting people and their wellbeing first through the slogan; “By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow”.
Though this and other travel restriction measures were put in place as a mitigation measure against the spread of the virus, they came at a very high cost. In 2019 and 2020, there was a significant decrease especially on international travel. Many countries closed their borders to tourists, had travel bans, visa controls, mandatory self-sponsored quarantine on arrival and other travel restrictions.
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Come early 2021, vaccines came around and with the launch of mass vaccination programs, most of the rules that were set down, loosed a bit. The borders in some countries were opened and people were able to travel again. However, vaccination being a choice though highly encouraged, was not taken up by majority. There was stigma on the effects of the vaccines that had been developed in such a short amount of time and speculations on how it worked. As at 5 December, only 5,583,134 Kenyans out of 50 million were vaccinated. The government’s mission is to have 10Million Kenyans vaccinated by the end of 2021.
Some borders still remain closed and in some countries, it is mandatory for citizens and non-citizens at large to be fully vaccinated and show proof of it before being allowed to enter or exit the country. This has sparked both positive and negative reactions. In Kenya, “Everybody seeking in-person government services should be fully vaccinated and proof of vaccination availed by December 21, 2021,” stated the Health Minister, Mutahi Kagwe, in a public address on 21 November. This would affect everything from schools and public transport to immigration services and visiting hospitals and prisons. It applies to both citizens and non-citizens.
As much as we are trying not to be left behind especially because Kenya is tourism destination, we ought to take into consideration that the vaccine is not accessible by all. The access to the vaccine is limited and people living far away from major cities are unable to access it. There is uneven availability even as Kenya received another batch of 4.3 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on December 7, 2021 from the government of Germany.
There have been other concerns about the side effects of the vaccine. Due to the many vaccine variants in the market, people have become skeptical about which one is the most effective and what are the short term and long term implications. There have been reports on soreness, redness, rash, and inflammation at the injection site.
Other common side effects such as fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and joint pain have also been experienced. This has led to many people not getting vaccinated despite the fact that the vaccine is a critical part of the solution and is effective at limiting severe cases and deaths. These assumptions have made many retirees/people over 70 years and young adults not to travel internationally because they do not meet the requirements.
The large number of unvaccinated people has impacted both positively and negatively on international travel. Tourists want to go to safe destinations and when they realize that that the country they are planning to visit has unvaccinated people, they do not feel safe. But also there are travelers who have no problem travelling to a country that does not require any covid-19 vaccination certificate. One thing that remains constant is that any traveler making travel plans now, has to check the latest government guidance on the foreign travel advice and country specific regulations.
As a positive turnover, Kenya may be pegging revival of its tourism and international travel on countries that have already conducted mass vaccination. Tourism CS Najib Balala stated that vaccinating the local population will attract more international tourists as they will feel safer and also create a safe travel bubble with countries that have fully vaccinated their populations.
As much as COVID-19 has had adverse effects worldwide, the mass vaccination appears to be so far, the most effective remedy to curbing the spread of the virus. With the vaccines, we are to see revival of the tourism and international travel which is a major source of revenue and the resumption of seemingly normal life.