The standard gauge railway (SGR) passenger service from Nairobi to Mombasa is fully booked ahead of Christmas, forcing holidaymakers to seek expensive alternatives like air travel that has seen a more than double rise in fares.
The bookings register shows that the trains are fully booked on December 23, with only a few seats left on second-class coaches on December 24 set to be snapped up in the coming days.
This is set to boost bus companies and airlines like Jambojet and Fly540 as families retreat to the coastal town of Mombasa for the Christmas season festivities.
Airlines have also increased fares for early bookings for Nairobi to Mombasa and Malindi flights more than a month before Christmas and the ticket prices are expected to rise further in the coming weeks.
Jambojet is currently charging passengers traveling to Mombasa from Nairobi on December 24 up to Sh16,300 on one-way air tickets from Sh7,000 it is charging today.
Tickets to Malindi from the capital for December 24 flights have shot to Sh17,300 from the current Sh7,000.
Carriers reckon that flights to the coastal towns of Malindi and Mombasa will this year cross the Sh25,000 mark on the expected jump in demand.
This means that Kenyans intending to book flights close to December 25 will pay more, promising to boost revenues of the carriers that were hit hard by tight travel measures imposed by the State to curb Covid-19.
“Passengers have finally mastered the art of booking the SGR train early. It’s the only way out to enjoy the service bearing in mind that we normally have huge demand, especially around the Christmas period,” Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) managing director Philip Mainga told the Business Daily.
Increased bookings have also been witnessed days to Christmas, an indicator that more people will opt to travel to the coast, way before December 25.
For instance, on December 22, the SGR train has a few seats available, mainly in economy coaches as the first-class section is fully booked.
Passengers in the economy class pay Sh1,000 while first-class tickets go for Sh3, 000.
Children below three years are not charged any fee to take a ride on the train, while those aged three to 11 pay half the fares for adults.
The surge in December bookings to the Coast is a boon for hoteliers who have faced one of their worst years and are hoping the visitor numbers in December will grow.
Tourism earnings more than doubled to Sh167.1 billion in January to August from Sh83 billion in the same period a year ago.
The earnings were a result of a 91 percent rise in the number of international visitors to 924,812, partly due to a recovery from the pandemic.
The SGR booking portal shows that traffic on bookings eases from December 26 and December 27 with availability in economy class and a few seats in first class.
Ticket prices for early plane bookings between December 22 and 24 have increased by a substantial margin on some routes compared to reservations made a month ago with airlines expecting demand for air travel to go up in the coming few weeks.
Those booking now to fly to Mombasa on December 23 on Jambojet are paying up to Sh10,100 on a one-way air ticket, up from about Sh7,000.
The carriers’ main challenge has been convincing Kenyans to book early, which is vital to the low-cost model.
“We expect to see more bookings in December, especially during the festive season,” said Jambojet digital marketing and communications manager Cynthia Otoro.