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Kenya visitor numbers drop Britain to second place

Kenya visitor numbers drop Britain to second place

The drop in visitor numbers from Britain, while literally all other markets show an upwards trend, has raised concern among tourism stakeholders in Kenya and in particular along the Kenya coast.

Data available up to the end of October suggest a drop of some 4,000 visitors compared to the previous year 2015, when arrival figures were still in a downward curve.

Informed industry observers promptly suggested that this was a result of the British charter market not reviving fast enough, making holidays to Kenya more expensive by having to use scheduled flights, often routing via Nairobi when the final destination was to be Mombasa.

Other “traditional” source markets also took a dive in the ranking ladder of the countries from where the most tourists came to Kenya, among them Germany. While numbers were up by some 20 percent from there charters have not yet reached the levels of previous years, again, like in the case of Britain, impacting on the rate of growth from these two key markets.

On the upside though the US has shown sustained growth by over 16 percent to take the arrival lead with more than 82,000 visitors, most of whom notably are coming for the higher yield safari vacations to Kenya.

India has also shown rapid growth, further explaining that the amended aviation pact between Kenya and India will permit national airline Kenya Airways more gateways and 7 more weekly flights while also benefiting from a codeshare deal with India’s Jet Airways.

Arrivals from India grew by nearly 14,000 additional visitors to almost 55,000 while China has pushed Germany to sixth place with an impressive rise to just under 41,500 visitors, up by over 16,000 year on year.

Arrivals from Uganda grew exponentially as many expatriates now take advantage of the visa-free travel through Interstate Pass arrangements with an added 20,000+ tourists streaming to the Kenyan capital, the coast and into the parks. Some of the downsides reported, however, include issues with Kenyan immigration and customs over hassling visitors using Interstate passes, something which prompted a leading Ugandan outbound operator to say: “There should be no more customs and even immigration controls when traveling between the NCIP countries. [NCIP stands for Northern Corridor Integration Project countries which include Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda]. ‘It defeats the purpose of free travel across the region and if only those Kenyan customs officers tearing into suitcases of travelers from Uganda could tell what sort of smuggled goods they expect to find? I would personally caution those officials that they can easily spoil the party and drive the expat community again to more distant destinations like Dubai where visitors have better experiences. Interstate pass travel for a family of four saved Ugandan expats 200 US Dollars in Visa fees which boosted travel to Kenya. But if the hassles become too many, this can quickly change again.”

Kenyan stakeholders also showed some concern over these latest figures and expressed surprise that the government incentives for charter airlines have not yielded enough results, prompting further investigations into the less than anticipated return of tourist flights to Mombasa.

Said a long-time acquaintance in the German charter airline industry: “The incentive package by the Kenyan government is ok. The problem I personally have is to ramp up operations now ahead of their elections next year. Charter planning is medium to longer term. Economic conditions right now are very tough and the consolidation in the German airline market is evidence that margins are very small. The German market is undergoing tremendous change right now. Etihad is using part of their partner airline Air Berlin to form a new venture with TuiFly and even Lufthansa has shown interest to return to the charter market, like in the old days when they owned Condor. Therefore, none of the major players right now is taking any additional risks in allocating aircraft capacity to markets which could go soft again during the course of 2017. Capacity to Turkey for instance has dropped way down from past years. With elections also coming up in Germany, France and Holland is the European market situation complicated to say the least.

“Kenya is another such an example. Now if the incentives can be stretched to say 2018 and beyond, after the elections are over there can be a rise in operations expected towards the high season 2017/18. I guess you get the trend I am showing here.”

Meanwhile South Africa has pushed Italy to 8th position but that market remains at the whim of, again, immigration. Should Kenya fail to reach a lasting solution over visa on arrival for South Africans and return to a visa in advance regime – which last time led to an instant collapse of visitor numbers from South Africa – these impressive gains could swiftly be wiped out.

“Our government officials are too slow to acknowledge that more action is required to bring foreign airlines to Mombasa. Charters, despite a good incentive package, have not returned to their former levels. Foreign airlines, apart from Turkish, Ethiopian and RwandAir, are finding problems when they want to fly into Mombasa and need a second stop in the region to make such flights financially viable. Kenya must jump over her own shadow as far as traffic rights are concerned. When I read your information about flights to Seychelles, or to Zanzibar or to Reunion and Mauritius, that is the way we should go too. The Kenya coast got many top resorts which can hold their own in comparison with other beach destinations in Africa or on the islands. In addition, we can offer safaris. But it takes some creative thinking to accomplish a change of trends. The new cruise terminal will help to position Mombasa better in the region. But apart from that, the county government, instead of killing the industry through fees and taxes, should clear the rubbish from the road sides and facilitate fast lanes for tourist busses to reach the resorts faster. It can be done but our officials need to retool their heads first,” added a coast-based regular contributor when asked to comment on the latest data and related information.

On the upside, Kenya has gained momentum and traction in the MICE market with a growing number of conventions and conferences coming to the Kenyan capital and other upcountry destinations, largely a result of more internationally-branded hotels opening in recent years and an impressive range of air connections into Nairobi by most of the world’s top aviation names. Towards that end, the expansion at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has borne fruit with a brand-new terminal for Kenya Airways and their SkyTeam partners as well as the refurbished and modernized terminals for departure and arrival which have substantially decongested East Africa’s busiest international airport.

To build on these gains, however, a second runway is now urgently needed at JKIA to attract more airlines to fly to Nairobi and airlines already serving the Kenyan capital to either add more flights or use larger aircraft.

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