It is widely accepted that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greater in crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. At the start of the pandemic, the Government of Kenya restricted people’s access to public areas, including hotels, bars and restaurants. The government’s response to the pandemic resulted in a staggering revenue loss of 17.5% in Kenya’s hospitality industry.
In September 2020, bars and restaurants began opening up, albeit under strict conditions. As social life in most parts of Kenya slowly starts to pick up, many believe that going back to pre-COVID lifestyles is becoming more unlikely.
To create safe public spaces and increase communities resilience to the negative social and economic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, Public Health Officers and civil society network members trained by the WASH First project, visited over 80 bars, hotels and restaurants in three Homa Bay sub-counties. These visits explored the readiness of the hospitality industry to open up businesses, and were used to pass on knowledge and tools to hospitality staff to keep clients (and themselves) safe from disease transmission.
Department of Health and CSO Network representatives train local bar staff on hygiene
Hotel manager demonstrates the 10 steps of proper hand washing by the hotel's entrance
COVID-19 ‘hits home’
‘When COVID-19 started, I did not take it seriously. Initially, we were putting on masks because we feared the police. Now it’s a collective responsibility because we have been educated on COVID-19.’ – Julie Opondo, Bar manager, Homa Bay
At the beginning, Julius did not understand the gravity of COVID-19. But when two of his friends succumbed to COVID-19, the disease became real to him. When he had to let go of 40% of his staff, COVID-19 started ‘hitting home.’
After engaging with Public Health Officers, Julius began to understand that controlling the spread of COVID-19 is a collective responsibility. He, like many other business owners, had a responsibility to follow and implement hygiene and safety guidelines.
Hospitality staff become hygiene ambassadors
Following the next sensitisation activity at a hotel in Homa Bay town, hotel manager Ronny Ochieng described the importance of government COVID-19 mitigation measures for his team.
‘First of all, better information and open dialogue positively shaped people’s knowledge and perception of the virus. More importantly, my staff are now ambassadors and are keen to educate our guests on best hygienic practices and social distancing… For example, we don’t allow customers in who are not wearing a mask, and we try to enforce handwashing through our security officer at the entrance.’
The long road to business recovery
While the above testimonials indicate important breakthroughs in behaviour and practice, the road to business recovery is a long one. Some measures designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 continue to pose real challenges to the operations of the hospitality industry. The imposition of curfews significantly reduced the timeframe for business to ‘make their money.’ For some places, social distancing rules mean opening up for fewer guests. Space – as in the pre-COVID times – is not used optimally.
To this end, the sensitisation campaign under WASH First does not simply increase awareness for hygiene and prevention, it is also being used as a platform to discuss challenges and search for practical ways to improve prevention measures.
Contributors: SNV in Kenya WASHFirst team
 This blog reports on implementation of two of the five behavioural change components being implemented by SNV’s WASH First team. These include, (1) training of healthcare workers including community health volunteers; county education staff, teaching and non-teaching staff; chiefs and sub-chiefs; and civil society network members; (2) sensitisation campaigns through door-to-door household visits, schools, markets, transport hubs and other public places; (3) mass-media awareness campaigns, using local radio networks and social media; (4) improve access to commodities such as soap and disinfection equipment; and (5) improve access to WASH services and facilities, e.g., handwashing stations and toilets.
 More information on COVID-19's impact on the hospitality industry here.
More information on WASH First activities