Around 250 tour guides from Kenya’s famed national parks lined up in downtown Nairobi on Tuesday to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, as part of a government effort to revive the tourism sector that has been battered by the pandemic.
The vaccination drive comes ahead of the annual wildebeest migration across the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The migration typically draws several hundred thousand international visitors but last year drew a far smaller number of local tourists.
Kenya’s tourism sector lost close to $1 billion in revenue between January and October of last year, when the number of foreign visitors plunged by two thirds due to COVID-19, official data shows.
With vaccination campaigns progressing quickly in many Western nations whose citizens travel to Kenya for safaris, guides were optimistic that — after getting vaccinated themselves — they could look forward to business picking up.
“This is also an indication to the world and any prospective visitors that Kenya is one of the safest places to come and visit now,” said Willis Sande, chairman of the Safari Guides Professionals Association of Kenya.
Dressed in the traditional garb of his Maasai ethnic group, guide Daniel Ole Kissipan said of the vaccination effort: “It is very important especially for our clients both domestic and international.”
Some guides also travelled to the capital to receive the shot from Amboseli National Park, beloved by tourists for its elephants and view of towering Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania.
“We move around different corners of Kenya so as we visit all these areas we need to get the vaccine,” guide Dickson Miroro said.
Kenya began COVID-19 vaccinations on March 5. The government said it hoped the campaign would mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic. The health ministry has administered more than 800,000 doses of the just over 1 million it received via the global vaccine-sharing facility COVAX.
Kenya opened vaccinations to inoculate health staff and other essential workers first, but slow uptake led the government to offer it more widely, according to the country’s main doctor’s union.
Kenya as of Tuesday had reported 156,981 cases and 2,643 deaths in total.