In East Africa, Safari Workers Wash Cars, Fry Fish and Struggle to Survive

“We knew we would not get the vaccines as quickly as America and Europe,” said George Gituku, the owner of Sandrage Safaris in Kenya, “so under the circumstances we are thankful that we have some business.”

In 2019, Kenya received more than two million international visitors, a record number and a nearly 4 percent increase from the year before. In 2020, overseas arrivals plummeted by 71.5 percent to 579,600, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Between January and June this year, the country welcomed just over 300,000 travelers, the state-run Tourism Research Institute reported.

Since June, Sandrage Safaris in Nairobi has received about 30 guests a month, a significant drop from the 100 guests they were averaging in the 2019 high season. Most of the visitors were Americans who were feeling optimistic after getting vaccinated, Mr. Gituku said, but Kenya’s low vaccination rate — currently just over 3 percent of the population — has caused many of his clients to postpone.

“We are learning to live with this virus, and we are constantly adapting our protocols to ensure our guests have a comfortable and safe experience,” Mr. Gituku said. “So far, everyone has had a great time, the migration has been amazing this year, there have been so many animals to see, and thankfully no one tested positive for Covid when they got back.”

Kathy Freedman, a retired architect from Boston, said she felt safer on her recent 10-day safari with her husband in the Masai Mara than she did on a hiking vacation an hour away from her house, where she stayed in a hotel full of guests who, she said, were not wearing masks or social distancing.

“Our kids were so worried about us traveling so far to Kenya, but Covid is worse at home than most places,” Ms. Freedman said. “We chose the best time to do a safari when there were no crowds. It was just us and our guide out in the wild with the animals.”

Safari workers are hoping that when their clients go back and share their positive experiences with friends and family, it will encourage more people to book trips. Many companies are paying their employees daily rates based on bookings they receive, which, workers say, is not enough for them to pay their bills and the debt they accumulated last year.

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