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Kenyans turn homes into hotels, reap Sh500m

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By ALLAN OLINGO
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By EUNICE MURATHE
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Over the past year, Ms Naserian Sitelu has had business travellers from Nairobi, a group of Nigerians, tourists from China and across Europe lodge in her house.

Ms Sitelu, who has a two-bedroom apartment, joined Airbnb in December 2017 to supplement her income.

It did not take much time for visitors to start renting her room regularly, thanks to the Airbnb website, which opened her home in upmarket Nyali in Mombasa to travellers from around the world.

“Many guests hope to save money. They are very cautious about their budgets,” Ms Sitelu said.

She has priced her room at $25 (Sh2,500) a night per person. She also allows two people to sleep in one room at the same price.

Ms Sitelu pointed out to a disrupted hotel industry where Airbnb continues to operate.

“Since I joined, there have been so many success stories. All those guests would have booked hotel rooms but they chose to use Airbnb,” she said.

According to Ms Sitelu, home-sharing platforms are likely to gain more ground over time as travellers become increasingly aware of their benefits

“There is the money aspect,” she said, adding that Airbnb also allows travellers to live as locals do, gives hosts opportunities to connect with diverse people, and for the owners, there is the flexibility to use the property occasionally, while also using it to earn money.

Since its launch in 2008, the accommodation listing platform has amassed millions of rooms worldwide, hosting tens of millions of clients, which saw it post a revenue of Sh100 billion in the fourth quarter of last year.

Locally, it is now shaking the very foundations of the tourism sector, pushing up property market prices as its key model of self-catering takes enterprising Kenyans by storm.

For starters, Airbnb has afforded Kenyans the opportunity to create new economic opportunities for themselves by monetising a spare room or a local experience, in places where such opportunities were often limited.

Traditionally, established hotels and operators have always enjoyed the lion’s share of the country’s tourism spoils, but with the new disruption wave Airbnb is quietly changing that.

Last year alone, it took away more than Sh500 million from the traditional tourism earners and placed it in individuals’ pockets, and with the trend quickly catching on, this is bound to rise, with expectations that it will double in the next four years.

“Airbnb allows you to do local tourism. It puts dollars in the pockets of lower and middle-class Africans. This local tourism is particularly appealing to younger, more adventurous travellers seeking to avoid the conformity of traditional tourism packages,” Airbnb Southern Africa manager Velma Corcoran said.

According to Airbnb, 97 per cent of accommodation charges remain with the listing owner while 42 per cent of what guests spend circulates in the local neighbourhood.

So far, more than 3.5 million guests have arrived in Africa through its listings, with roughly half of these arrivals occurring in just the past two years.

There are over 130,000 Airbnb listings across Africa, with South Africa constituting the bulk of the business, followed by Morocco, Kenya and Egypt.

“The rest of the continent is catching up with really encouraging growth numbers,” Ms Corocan said.

In the year to September 2017, hosts in Kenya earned Sh390 million, and in a similar period last year, the Kenyan numbers had ballooned to Sh510 million.

This can also be seen as a loss for hotel owners, given that these funds go directly into private individuals who still offer accommodation services.

Airbnb is not just a platform for booking rooms in other users’ homes. Boutique and apartment hotels are also seeking to fill their rooms using the platform.

Daniel Kyalo, the Cowrie Shell Beach Apartments general manager, said they use the platform in the same way as booking services like Booking.com.

However, the commission charged by Airbnb as compared to other booking agents is much more attractive.

“Airbnb charges hosts a three per cent fee. Other online agents charge 18 per cent to 20 per cent commission. The difference is so big, making the same property have different pricing. I will obviously get more clients via Airbnb,“ Mr Kyalo, who has listed hotel apartments on Airbnb, said.

Mr Kyalo said most low-budget travellers favour Airbnb as they may not afford to stay in hotel rooms.

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“I listed some in 2016. The numbers have doubled since 2016. People are getting to know the benefits of Airbnb,” Mr Kyalo said.

Two months ago, Kaskazi Beach Hotel joined Airbnb. The sea-front hotel has 191 rooms.

The hotel’s marketing manager Daniel Ogechi said they were using Airbnb to find new customers.

“It is giving us business. We normally give them three to four rooms. We wanted more bookings. We are selling single and double rooms. We have had bookings from international tourists,“ he said.

According to the Tourism Sector Performance Report, 2018 by the Ministry of Tourism, growth in shared economy is among the notable trends that will shape destination Kenya’s performance this year.

In the seven months to September last year, Kenya guest arrivals via Airbnb grew by 68 per cent and this is out of the domestic market that is also using the platform.

Since its founding in 2008, Airbnb hosts across Africa have earned more than $400 million in direct income from renting out their properties via the service.

Tourism is one of the continent’s fastest-growing sectors and contributed nearly $178 billion to Africa’s gross domestic product in 2017, according to latest figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Data from Airbnb shows that Kenya had more than 6,500 listings at the end of 2018, while AllTherooms, an accommodation search engine, puts 2,000 active listings in the Coast alone.

Of these, 676 are active Airbnb listings in Mombasa with an average price of the rentals at $85 per night. The lowest priced Airbnb in Mombasa is $10 per night.

Diani Beach in Kwale County has 404 active Airbnb rentals with an average price of $135 per night. Malindi in Kilifi County has 409 active Airbnb rentals.

The average price of Airbnb rentals in Malindi is $126 per night. Watamu in Kilifi has attracted 413 active Airbnb rentals with an average pricing of $133 per night.

Kilifi Town has 62 active Airbnb rentals with an average pricing of $133 per night.

As a result of the entry of this new form of tourism hosting, African governments now want a slice of Airbnb’s cake.

For instance, Tanzania last November asked all the Airbnb operators to register their facilities with the government before the end of the year or face court action.

In Kenya the push for registration has not been as aggressive as other markets, but still tourism players are calling for a fair playing ground, as they recognise the threat from this service.

“It will have an impact on the traditional landscape and the Tourism Regulatory Authority (TRA) needs to be proactive. We already have issues with homestays.

“The proprietors of homestays are complaining that the standards are stringent,” Mr Sam Ikwaye, Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast branch executive officer, said.

“We have the issue of standards and quality, but most important we have issues on the challenge of taxation. If there is somebody who is going to do business and not pay taxes, then it is actually a disservice and it is creating an uneven playing field,” Mr Ikwaye added.

In an interview with Saturday Nation, TRA chairman Sammy Nyule said they are in the process of registering all tourism-related enterprises and expected Airbnb to come forward and be registered.

“We are working with Airbnb to facilitate registration and remitting of taxes by July. It is being planned. They are supposed to be licensed by TRA after which we can come in,” Mr Joseph Cherutoi, Tourism Fund Chief Executive Officer, said.

He said they were looking forward to signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Airbnb.

“We will arrange a meeting with them and then write an MoU. After that, once Airbnb collects their commission, they will also collect the levy on our behalf. We are also going to work with the Kenya Revenue Authority,” Mr Cherutoi said.

Interestingly, most county officials in the Coast, which is a tourism hub, either have no idea about this new disruption, or are just burying their heads in the sand.

“This is still an emerging issue, and we know that this platform is gaining traction in urban areas like Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi and Nakuru. We also understand that most of these hosts are hiding this kind of businesses, but we are working with TRA and Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa and Taita Taveta county governments to register them,” he added.

Airbnb, on its part, has expressed willingness to work with African governments to ensure they get a piece of the hospitality pie through sharing of revenues.

“We are working towards having the African government embrace home sharing as a new player in tourism, then we can work with them to put in place certain tools, like collecting and remitting tourism tax,” Ms Corcoran said.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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