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Hoteliers, leaders bank on open skies policy to revive Coast tourism

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Tourists relaxing at a beach in Diani. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • Coast hoteliers and leaders are pegging hopes on open skies policy for sector revival.
  • The region is Kenya’s tourism hub. However, the travel restrictions in the aviation sector have hindered connectivity, especially in the international circuit.
  • But as the government spends Sh7 billion to revamp the Moi International Airport’s runway and lighting systems to allow larger flights, the Coast stakeholders are hoping the international airlines will be allowed access.

With international visitor arrivals declining by 71.5 percent from 2,035,400 in 2019 to 579,600 in 2020 due to Covid-19 containment measures, including travel restrictions, social distancing and isolation guidelines, Coast hoteliers and leaders are pegging hopes on open skies policy for sector revival.

The region is Kenya’s tourism hub. However, the travel restrictions in the aviation sector have hindered connectivity, especially in the international circuit.

But as the government spends Sh7 billion to revamp the Moi International Airport’s runway and lighting systems to allow larger flights, the Coast stakeholders are hoping the international airlines will be allowed access.

The industry players insist that the adoption of open skies policy will see international airlines directly landing at Moi International Airport. They said the sector in the destination will stagnate without direct flights.

The Economic Survey2021, by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), shows Kenya lost more than Sh71 billion in tourism earnings in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, representing a 43.9 percent decline compared to 2019.

The Covid-19 safety protocols resulted in a decline in tourism earnings from Sh163.6 billion in 2019 to Sh91.7 billion in 2020.

However, the hoteliers and leaders are urging the government to implement the open skies policies to spur the port city’s international travel, tourism and hospitality sectors.

“There are serious policy issues that must be addressed if we want to change our way of doing business.

“For instance, the open skies policy, we should encourage more scheduled flights to Mombasa,” said Mombasa governor Hassan Joho while marking World Tourism Day at Pride Inn Hotel.

He added that the future of tourism, which is reeling from the effects of the pandemic, depends on the adoption of open skies policies.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir challenged the Kenya Coast Tourism Association, to engage MPs to push for the policies.

“We don’t need to pass through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, we want direct flights to Moi International Airport. If adopted, direct flights will land at Moi International Airport, which is Kenya’s second-largest airport, boosting tourism,” he said.

Some of the airlines, which have resumed direct flights to Mombasa are Eurowings Discover by Lufthansa that flies twice weekly from Germany, Romanian Charter and Bees Airline from Ukraine, which makes weekly trips.

But Mr Joho and hotelier Mohammed Hersi said more airlines have expressed interest to fly to Mombasa but face restrictions as the government protects the national carrier Kenya Airways.

Turkish Airlines, KLM and Qatar Airways have also plan to resume direct flights to Mombasa.

The stakeholders want the national carrier to face stiff competition from other international carriers.

“Kenya Airways should protect itself, and by being prudent in the management of their affairs, you cannot be bailed using taxpayers’ money year in year out,” said Mr Joho.

He has been wooing charter plane operators to fly to Mombasa.

The county signed a tourism partnership agreement with Ukraine to revive the sector.

Through the partnership, Ukraine launched its first charter flight in April ferrying tourists directly from Kyiv to Moi International Airport.

Mr Joho said Fly Dubai, Qatar Air and Emirates want to fly to the Coast but they had been restricted.

Mr Hersi said the region needs more flight connections to boost tourism.

“If a licence is denied ostensibly to protect our national carrier then we are very disappointed. We all support our national carrier but we cannot overly protect it at expense of investors in the industry. While our national carrier has been getting bailouts I am afraid as tourism stakeholders we do not have that luxury neither are we asking for it. We work extremely hard and all we asking for is enablers like airlines connectivity. We do not ask for bailouts, we hustle and we employ thousands compared to the few employed by our national carrier,” he said.

The hotelier wondered why the State was spending Sh7 billion on the Moi International Airport to revamp the runway and lighting systems only to deny international airlines access.

“Kenya’s tourism industry and more so the Coast region is one very resilient sector, we have pleaded over the years with our national carrier to fly London-Mombasa even once weekly but they will give us excuses. We are denying hotels and resorts from Shimoni to Lamu an opportunity,” he added.

The region has over 50,000 beds.

He said Kenya Airways would perform well if the State allowed competition.

Mehbub Harunani, a hotelier, said the revitalisation of tourism would boost the sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

KEY SOURCES

“But as stakeholders, we have managed to remain afloat. We need to ensure everyone is vaccinated to reopen the industry. KLM, Lufthansa, Polish, Romanian are coming to Mombasa. Let’s be positive, we survive on tourism,” he said.

The Yamoussoukro Declaration, which 44 members of the African Union endorsed in 1999, allowed for open skies among most African countries. However, it is only South Africa and Morocco that have successfully implemented it.

“The Yamoussoukfro Declaration is good but only on paper.

“We need real open skies and intra-Africa connectivity like Europe.

“Opening the skies needs preparation and it’s beneficial for the country. The main step that we must take as Africa is creating real open skies,” said Moroccan Airports Authority general manager Zouhair Mohammed on November 19, 2020, during a webinar on tourism recovery.

The US, Germany and the UK are Kenya’s key sources of international tourists.

In Kenya, the government requires tourists to show a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate when they enter and depart the country.