Kenya shields tourism with restored UK flights


Tourists arrive at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa. PHOTO | FILE

Kenya has moved to safeguard its tourism sector from further hits by lifting a ban on passenger flights between Nairobi and London ahead of the peak Summer season.

In a surprise move, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday announced the resumption of flights to the UK after nearly a three-month hiatus. This came barely a week after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) extended the ban for a second time to August 24.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya presents its compliments to the British High Commission and has the honour to convey the decision … to lift all flights restrictions between Kenya and the United Kingdom,” read the letter.

The arrivals from the UK to Kenya, will, however, be required to self-isolate for seven days and must have a valid Covid-19 negative certificate conducted within 96 hours before travel.

“All passengers irrespective of nationality and residency status coming to Kenya from the United Kingdom, irrespective of their route of travel to Kenya, shall be required to self-isolate upon arrival and take a subsequent test for four days after arrival,” the letter added.

Kenya banned flights from the UK, effective April 9 in retaliation to a move by the UK to add the country to its travel ‘Red List’. The initial freeze on flights on the route was to expire on May 5 but was extended to June 6.

The decision by Kenya to restore these flights comes as a boost to Kenya Airways and the hospitality ahead of the main tourism season.

Kenya’s tourism season traditionally peaks from July to September, coinciding with the country’s dry season and the world-renowned migration of wildebeest and zebra through Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

The UK has been a top tourism source market for Kenya.

In 2019, the UK emerged fourth in ranking, tourists who visited having hit 181,484.

The tourism sector in Kenya is thirsty for revival after suffering the worst hits by the economic fallout of Covid-19 that curtailed movement.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed that international arrivals dropped from 1.54 million in 2019 to 439,447 in 2020 after the government banned all local and international flights in March, resulting in low tourist traffic at hotels and animal parks.

The Ministry of Tourism announced that Kenya would lose up to Sh80 billion from tourism last year after an impressive performance in 2019 where the sector earned Sh163.6 billion, a 3.9 percent rise from Sh157.4 billion in 2018.

The Treasury has marked tourism among its priority sectors to drive the revival of the economy—a position that may have informed the decision to restore flights between London and Nairobi.

In his 2021/2022 budget, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani handed Sh2.3 billion to the tourism sector to help it recover from an economic fallout caused by the coronavirus.

He allocated Sh1.7 billion to the Tourism Fund and Sh643 million to the Tourism Promotion Fund to help lift the sector battered by the effects of the pandemic.

Apart from hitting tourism and air travel, the travel blockades had raised concerns over negative effects on trade and bilateral ties such as military co-operation between the two countries.

Kenya is engaged in talks for a critical new bilateral trade deal with the UK post-Brexit, hoping to cushion its economy after partner States of the East African Community (EAC) failed to conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU. Only Kenya signed and ratified the deal.

Until the end of the Brexit transition period, Kenya enjoyed duty-free and quota-free access to the UK’s markets through the EU’s Market Access Regulation (MAR). As the UK did not replicate the MAR at the end of the transition period, Kenya would have faced an increase in tariffs without a trade agreement or other measures in place.