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Beating the odds to survive the pandemic

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-07-10 14:51
A girl walks past traders who are selling groceries from their vehicles in Nairobi, Kenya in July. [Photo by Otiato Opali/chinadaily.com.cn]

The travel industry in Africa, like the rest of the world, has taken a severe blow due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of people who are dependent on it suffering immense losses and job cuts.

Agnes Mucuha, the chief executive officer at the Kenya Association of Travel Agents, says that the coronavirus has hit the travel industry really hard with loss of jobs and revenue for travel agents.

"The beginning of the year had so much promise. Kenya had recorded an increase in international arrivals after receiving 1,444,670 arrivals between July 2019 and February 2020 as compared to 1,323,548 over the same period last year," Mucuha said.

"Over 90 percent of forward bookings from the month of April were canceled. Our industry forecast on bookings for the period ending July is also extremely depressed as travelers have opted to postpone their travel until quarter four," Mucuha added.

Christine Wanjiru had worked as a receptionist at Nairobi's Bon Voyage travel agency for 10 years and according to her, she had never expected a day would come when she would unceremoniously lose her job.

According to Wanjiru, her travel agency closed shop in April, but most employees like herself who were considered nonessential during the pandemic were laid off in March once Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, announced an international travel ban that only allowed Kenyan citizens and foreigners with valid residence permits to fly into the country.

"The communication we received from our human resource department was that we are being laid off due to lack of business but should the situation take a turn, we will be given first priority and be re-absorbed if and when the business needs us," Wanjiru said.

Having found herself jobless and with two children to feed, Wanjiru decided to get into business by using her husband's car to pick up groceries at Nairobi's Wakulima Market and sell them in the estate where she lives through the same car.

"At first it was challenging. I was used to dressing up and going to an office for an 8 am to 5 pm job and selling groceries looked like I was stooping low. However having come from the aviation industry, I was aware that people in much more prestigious positions like pilots and air hostesses had lost their jobs and in a time of crisis, you have to work with what you have," she added.

"It has been challenging trying to sell groceries from the vehicle. I had to learn fast about where to get the groceries and convincing customers to buy from you is also difficult. Before the virus, I used to have a grocer who I would regularly buy supplies from but now we are like competitors. Convincing such loyal customers to abandon their grocer and buy from you is not easy," Wanjiru says.

However, Wanjiru is hopeful that she will not be in this position for long and humanity will defeat the virus and rebuild from where they left once the virus struck.

"The world cannot be closed forever and I believe a solution for the virus will be found. Before that happens, we cannot give up hope and resign ourselves to fate. Though I am not making as much as I used to, this grocery business has been able to supplement my husband's earnings and we are able to feed our children and pay the rent despite the harsh economic times," Wanjiru said.

On July 6, Kenyatta announced that international flights in and out of Kenya will resume from Aug 1, while domestic flights will resume from July 15.

"We are glad that travel will resume, but we may not immediately get our jobs back. Reversing the effects of the virus will take time and before a permanent solution is found, we should all be ready to continue making sacrifices in order to survive," Wanjiru said.

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