Kenyan officials and business leaders moved quickly on Tuesday to capitalise on the daily non-stop service between New York and Nairobi that was inaugurated the previous day.
They were joined by a senior Trump administration official and dozens of American potential investors at a conference in Manhattan on “Doing Business in Kenya” sponsored by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa.
The challenge facing Kenya now is to “optimise and utilise the linkages created by this direct flight to create more business, more trade, more investment and, finally, more tourism,” declared Mr Kiprono Kittony, chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The savings of seven hours’ travelling time afforded by the non-stop flight will make a big difference to small- and mid-sized Kenyan businesses, said Carol Kariuki, CEO of Kenya Private Sector Alliance.
Perishable goods intended for the US would often spoil en route due to layovers in Europe, she noted.
“We’ve talked a lot about, ‘Is this for big business?’ No, it’s about the small businesses — the farmers in Kenya — who are growing the produce and can really access this market finally,” Ms Kariuki said.
Speedy transport’s importance to economic growth was also emphasised by Joel Szabat, an aviation and international affairs official in the US Department of Transportation.
“The benefits of Agoa cannot be fully realised without an adequate transportation infrastructure," Mr Szabat said, referring to the US’ preferential trade programme for Africa. "And aviation is at the heart of it.”
Airline bookings to Kenya from the US are up 30 percent in comparison to the same time last year, Mr Szabat noted, adding that some of that gain can be attributed to the availability of a nonstop flight.
Mr Szabat touted the Trump administration’s aim of forging close ties with Kenya.
“Our two presidents also resolved to elevate the bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership,” he told the conference audience.
The two governments have concluded or set in motion nearly $1 billion in new business deals in recent months, Mr Szabat noted.
Foreign Affairs secretary Monica Juma cited investment opportunities offered by Kenya’s ‘Big Four’ agenda.
“When we talk about housing, when we talk about manufacturing, when we talk about healthcare, when we talk about food security — we are talking about viable and bankable projects,” she said.