By Kazungu Samuel and Baya Samuel
The inaugural direct flight between Kenya and the United States is 10 days away, but the vibe around it has warmed US travellers who, according to the New York Times, have made Kenya a hot-ticket destination rivalling Mexico, Italy and Europe, generally.
The paper, quoting travel agents, said bookings for December to Kenya were up by about 28 per cent from last year’s with one arranger saying it had placed Sh800 million worth of business to Kenya.
That will translate to higher bed occupancy for hotels, more direct jobs and business for suppliers.
Non-stop flights between Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and John F Kennedy International Airport in New York will be launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta on October 28.
Travelport, an agency, reported a 28.8 per cent increase for December bookings to Kenya, compared to last year, while ForwardKeys reported a 27.2 per cent increase in bookings from last month to the end of the year, the paper said.
Mr Andy Pesky, the senior vice-president of leisure sales and marketing at Protravel, was quoted as saying the company had recorded around $8 million (Sh800 million) in winter bookings to Kenya, a 10 per cent jump from $7.2 million last year.
That alone represents about a tenth of the money Kenya earns from tourism annually.
“You’re saving more than five hours of travel time and don’t have to deal with a layover,” said Ms Christine Alestra, the director of destination partnerships for Signature, on the flight’s appeal.
Kenya receives about 120,000 visitors from the US every year, making it the second biggest tourism source market after United Kingdom.
The bookings are a lift to the tourism sector across the country, starting with beach holidays at the coast, conference tourism in Nairobi and Mombasa, safari travel in protected nature reserves and cultural attractions in far-flung places such as Turkana and Lamu.
The news also coincides with Mombasa hosting more than 500 visitors for the 79th SKAL International World Congress.
According to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), tourism arrivals increased by 6.8 per cent to 1.49 million visitors from 1.4 million in the year to June 2017.
Arrivals at Mombasa’s Moi International Airport grew by almost a third to 119,910 up from 92,526.
Cruise ship arrivals recorded during the period grew by 59 per cent to 2,778 by the end of June this year compared to 1,743 in 2016 and 2017.
“Improved security, continued confidence in the destination, establishment of modern transport infrastructure such as the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway as well as the implementation of the Sh1.2 billion Charter Incentive Programme at the coast have greatly contributed to the continued improvement in the performance of Kenya’s tourism sector,” said KTB chief executive Betty Radier.
Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa Managing Director Bobby Kamani said yesterday that they expected the number of visitors for holidays to increase because Kenya has enjoyed peace and tranquillity.
“It’s a safe, attractive destination for tourists. This will further encourage more international visitors from abroad to sample Kenyans hospitality,” he said.
The hotel was recently voted Africa’s Leading Beach Resort 2018 during the World Travel Awards Gala at the Durban International Convention Centre, South Africa.
The direct flights, he said, would attract more American tourists.
“The impending inaugural Kenya Airways Nairobi to New York direct flights makes Kenya more accessible to the US. We expect this to increase the number of visitors coming for the December holidays,” Mr Kamani added.
He said that the lifting of travel advisories after Kenya contained the terrorism threats and the easing of tensions brought by last year’s elections had also given confidence to the visitors.
Besides upgrading facilities, the stakeholders have courted new markets and diversified the product.
“Directs flights will first open direct link to our tourist market number two. US can easily become our number one tourist source if it is accessible,” said the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch executive officer, Mr Sam Ikwaye.