From Manchester to Mombasa and all the steps in between
Our Director Ben jumps the hurdles of Covid safe travel… here in 4 simple steps is his lowdown on what you need to know and his thoughts on the UK Government 'Traffic Light' system for foreign travel.
21 May 2021
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Earlier this year I flew to Kenya with my wife and 3 young boys. We flew on Ethiopian Airlines from Manchester to Addis, then into Mombasa, and I thought it might be interesting to share some thoughts about both Air Travel in the Covid era, as well as what it was like in Kenya from a Covid perspective.
Despite being a tour operator for most of my adult working life, I don’t mind admitting that I found the pre-travel organising quite stressful, time consuming and challenging. It ended up taking much more time, and causing a lot of ‘have I filled in all the right forms for the right people at the right time’ anxiety.
In short there are now many more organisational hoops to go through before you can step foot on the plane.
1.Book your flight… the easy bit. (Being careful to make sure the airlines terms will let you have a refund if you can’t travel for Covid related reasons.)
2.Visas. Kenya, like most countries that previously allowed visas on arrival, has now moved to compulsory requirement for visas to be organised in advance. For those like me with last minute tendencies, this was constructive. Why on earth didn’t I do this before! A good example how Covid has streamlined some parts of travel.
3.Find a private Covid testing provider, then work out exactly when you need to get a test – as entry to most countries now requires a negative PCR test taken between 72 to 120 hours before arrival. This caused no little gnashing of teeth… I worked out that there was a 12 hour window that we had to take our tests in, in order to be certain the results would come back before we departed, but still be valid by the time we arrived in Kenya.
Doing this all for the first time felt stressful and took away from what should have been an exciting time we prepared for our holiday. As a tour operator I can see clearly that this is an area that we can be enormously helpful to our customers. Things like:
Must the PCR test be taken 72 hours before departure from the UK, or from arrival at your destination?
What online forms have to be completed in advance… each destination country has its own specific requirements?
Simple checklists that confirm definitively what needs to be done and remove the ‘have I filled in all the right forms’ anxiety.
Towards the end of 2021 I am certain that PCR testing before travel will become faster, cheaper and easier – until then, myself and our team are here to help.
4.After the Covid Test, we then had to register our negative test result on a ‘trusted travel’ website – a Kenya requirement. This was straightforward, but at the time I found that yet another admin layer really added to my ‘this feels more like a military operation than a holiday' feeling.
To the airport
Then we went to the airport and everything changed.
Forget all your recent experiences of air travel… it was a delight. Far more thought had gone into queues – or rather how they could be avoided (queues and social distancing aren’t really compatible) - and I was very impressed by how Manchester Airport and Ethiopian Airlines managed our progress from bag drop, through security and eventually onto the aircraft. And without the niggly queues, and the airport probably handling the passenger numbers it was originally designed for – staff and travellers just seemed happier and less harassed.
Onto the aircraft
On the plane you wear a mask – something we’re all getting plenty of practice with – and even my trio of sub 10 year old boys didn’t seem to mind this at all.
More disconcerting was the full PPE outfit of the cabin crew… hairnet, masks, visors and gowns… its hard to grasp just how much some peoples working conditions have changed since Covid… I do hope they are better remunerated by their employers and more appreciated by the travelling public. They deserve both.
Meals were served as per normal, but there was less trolley action… and actually it made for a better flight experience… just simpler, and simple is good in my book.
After one too many films and the usual indigestion from having meals out of synch with my body clock, we arrived jaded into Mombasa airport the following morning. And would you believe it, the pleasant travel experience kept giving. Again, no queues, all passengers had the right forms, and no queues for visas. And the domino effect of all this ‘smoothing’ was immigration & customs staff that seemed genuinely happy to see us.
Happy, stress free, and HOT !! (from UK winter weather to the Kenya coast is some transition) - we were out of the airport in 25 minutes and heading for the beach.
What was Kenya like
One thing was immediately clear the minute we set foot on Kenyan soil… Covid is being taken seriously. In fact, it was a jarring step change compared to the norms in our life in the UK.
In Kenya mask wearing in public is mandatory – and being observed across society.
You have to hand sanitise before you can enter supermarkets, as well as many smaller shops such as pharmacies, clothing shops, restaurants.
Temperatures guns are everywhere. Readings are taken before you can go into most restaurants, banks and supermarkets etc.
This probably explains why Kenya’s Covid cases have been so incredibly low. At home in the UK, everyone I know has either had Covid, or knows someone who has. Where we were staying on the Kenya coast – nobody I met had had Covid, or knew anyone who had .
So we had a wonderful time on the Kenya coast – a family holiday up with the best of them – feeling safe at all times, and revelling in having so much of the beach and the bush all to ourselves.
This article is also part confessional. Before travelling I had been guilty of thinking:
‘Well if we can’t control Covid here in the developed world with all our resources, then how on earth does somewhere like Kenya even have a chance’
How wrong and prejudiced I was. Yes, I prejudged the situation making assumptions without really knowing the reality. I now know that – in common with many African states – the rule of law is observed more conscientiously than in the majority of liberal democracies such as the UK and US. And experience of terrifying diseases such as Ebola, Tuberculosis, HIV, Malaria, and parasitic worms aplenty means there is familiarity, acceptance and understanding when preventative measures need to be put in place. By way of example, take the Kenya governments’ closing of all schools for a full year in early 2020. Criticised widely, it proved to be well judged and helped avoid the ‘second wave’ experienced in the UK and many other countries
And I should have looked at the numbers… daily deaths from Covid in Kenya have never averaged more than 23… that is compared to UK figures that peaked at 1,400 (the two countries have similar populations).
So I learned a good lesson.
Like most people, I hadn’t been on an aeroplane for quite some time – and didn’t know what to expect.
As it turned out the planning was the hardest bit, and the travel AND the destination were a delight.
WOULD I GO AGAIN…? In a heartbeat. In fact, we are planning to visit Ethiopia and Kenya as soon as the UK government traffic light system allows it.
Ben flew with Ethiopian Airlines using their Manchester to Addis route which for anyone in the north of the UK is an excellent gateway to the rest Africa thanks to Ethiopian Airlines extensive network of onward flights. The onward connection from Addis to Mombasa took an hour.
Getting from Mombasa’s international airport to Diani involves crossing the Likoni Ferry.. a notorious bottleneck for traffic that in rush hour can add 2 hours to what should usually be a 1 hr 30 minute transfer. Far & Wild have an air-conditioned car driven by chauffeur Karanja – a friendly first point of contact as you emerge into the warm tropical climate of the Kenya coast.
On safari - Finch Hattons
Ben and his family stayed at Finch Hattons – an upscale safari lodge in Tsavo West, with about 15 luxury suites. Says Ben:
“Hiding in plain sight… Finch Hattons is my find of the past 5 years in Kenya. I still can’t quite get over how good an overall experience was provided. Culture flows downwards, so credit must go to the owners and to the lodge manager Jonathan for creating such a finely balanced customer focused hospitality experience… no mean feat for a safari lodge in a remote corner of Tsavo.
Special mention also to Head Chef Kennedy and team - his kitchen consistently produced culinary creations that would not be out of place in a Michelin starred restaurant anywhere on the globe. ”
On the beach - Mzuri Beach House
Ben and his family stayed in an exclusive fully serviced villa 20 metres from the beach in Diani in Kenya. Mzuri Beach House has four enormous en-suite bedrooms, private chef, housekeeper and a shared swimming pool. For more information speak to Ben
UK GOVERNMENT TRAFFIC LIGHT SYSTEM??
WHATS THAT I HEAR YOU SAY?
As most readers will probably know, at the moment the UK Government is operating a green / amber / red traffic light system for foreign travel. Most African countries are in the ‘red’ category – meaning that travel is illegal for all but the most exceptional circumstances. [For more info see; www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england]
It is a position that has NEVER been clearly explained by the UK government. This is surprising when you consider;
Both the US and the EU no longer place restrictions on travel for those who have been vaccinated twice.
Kenya’s deaths from covid have never averaged more than 23 per day… that compared to the UK (which has a similar population) that peaked at 1,400. [Source: JHU – find by searching google for ‘kenya covid cases’]
Kenya is over 4,000kms from South Africa (the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to have had a Covid outbreak even close to the proportions of European countries) – considerably further than London is from Moscow.
I sit on the advisory board for the Africa Travel and Tourism Association (www.atta.travel). Our team at ATTA led by Chris Mears and Nigel Vere Nicholl have been lobbying MPs and the government for a clarity on the traffic light system – and for a clearer, logic based set of criteria for defining the category a country is assigned to. You can read more from Nigel in this recent article: Africa deserves better than the red list.
Why is this issue so important?
People want to travel to Africa… whether to see friends, family, or for holidays.
Huge numbers of jobs and businesses have been lost from within the UK travel sector and many more are at risk . Forget Far & Wild Travel... this isn't about us... it's a slow moving disaster for hundreds of specialist travel companies all over the country and the many men and women they employ.
And did you know the UK is the largest source of inbound holiday makers for most countries in sub-saharan Africa. So imagine the impact on hotels, lodges and camps on the ground… lost jobs and businesses closed for good.
And that’s before we get to the impact on wildlife. Tourism is one of the principal drivers for conservation in Africa – every time you visit a national park you pay a per day park fee – these fees fund wildlife rangers, anti-poaching patrols, boundary fencing etc. So on top of all the human impacts, Africa faces a conservation crisis.
Right... I'm off to London now to super glue myself to the Downing Street railings. What else can we do when lobbying, letter writing and newspaper coverage fails.