Kenya’s perennial traffic jams coupled with fatal road accidents during festive seasons, have generated a new breed of air and fast rail travellers heading upcountry and to the Coast.
While road users report spending hours on end along major highways, travellers by air and Madaraka Express report hustle-free movement whose departure and arrival times are definite.
This Easter was not different with Madaraka Express and low cost intra-county air carriers reporting full bookings ahead of the festivities.
In an interview, Kenya Railways Corporation Managing Director Atanas Maina said Madaraka Express was fully booked for the period, adding that most bookings were done by family parties.
“To avoid inconvenience, passengers must learn to book in advance. It is the only secret that has not been mastered by the majority of our customers,” he said.
While Madaraka Express charged Sh700 for an Economy class seat and Sh3,000 for luxury travel, budget air carriers enjoyed a boom with many hiking fares to earn Easter dividends.
Currently, there are four parallel trains departing the two cities (Nairobi and Mombasa) respectively for the four-and-a half-hour journey, two in the morning at 9am completing their journey at 1.30pm and the 2.30pm ones that arrive at the destination at 7pm.
A survey of low cost air carrier websites in search of available seats from Nairobi-Eldoret, Nairobi-Kisumu and Nairobi-Kakamega as well as Nairobi-Mombasa last week indicated they were fully booked.
An Eldoret air traveller settled for a night bus that charged Sh1,350 for a seat from Nairobi but was lucky to get a return flight air ticket at Sh6,000 unlike other times when a one way ticket costs from Eldoret goes for Sh4,200.
“Travelling by bus is a tedious eight-hour journey while a plane takes a paltry 25 minutes from Nairobi to Eldoret. That makes economic sense but my delays cost me an air ticket and I have now to rely on a night bus to be home on time for Easter Friday,” he said without giving his name.
Jambojet chief executive Willem Hondius said demand for air travel has soared this season with the remaining few seats costing a leg and an arm.
“Our flights are almost fully booked with the number of seats that are remaining going for higher prices,’ said Mr Hondius.
On the Eldoret route, which is normally one of the cheapest that the budget airline Jambojet operates, a one-way ticket was going for Sh10,200 for both morning and afternoon flights Thursday.
Ordinarily, flights on this route cost Sh4,200 for a one-way trip.
A flight to Moi International Airport in Mombasa was going for Sh14,200 Thursday morning while four afternoon flights have been fully booked.
Malindi, which is a popular tourist destination has seen the price of a ticket shoot to a high of Sh15,200 for the afternoon flight while the morning one is fully booked for Thursday. The Diani route is fully booked for the same day.
Fly540 charged Sh7,770 last Thursday with afternoon flights already sold out. Five of the Mombasa-bound flights belonging to the airline was fully booked on Thursday.
The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye said operators were banking on the long weekend for increased business after last year’s December holidays were dampened by the prolonged electioneering period.
The Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi said most hotels at the Coast region were enjoying 70 to 80 per cent bed capacity with camps booked at 60 per cent.
“The Open Sky policy is a game changer as it has connected Western Kenya to the Coast. The more connections we get from one tourist circuit to another, the better for us,” Hersi said.
The Kenya Association of Travel Agents chief executive Nicanor Sabula welcomed increased air travel budget carriers saying they made it easier for Kenyans to fly home avoiding the tedious and often boring road travel.
Domestic travel is expected to increase this year after 2017’s political season that saw many adopt a wait-and-see attitude, opting to stay at home.
Last year, said Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala, Kenyans took up four million bed nights compared to 2016’s bednights that stood at 3.5 million.
Kisumu, Kakamega, Eldoret, Wajir, Isiolo, Mombasa, Ukunda, Malinda and Lodwar enjoy daily and bi-weekly low cost air flights provided by Jambojet, Skyward, Silverstone and Fly540.
Jambojet has also upped its game by introducing double daily flights to Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport at an introductory price of Sh11,330 for a one-way ticket.
And according to travel data company, Forward Keys, Nairobi’s domestic air travel recorded a 22 per cent growth last year beating its closest competitors Tunis and Addis Ababa that grew by 14 per cent and nine per cent respectively.
Forward Keys collated the data on reservations handled by more than 200,000 online and offline travel agencies worldwide between January 1 and July 31.
The analysis also looked at major airports in 10 cities across eight countries including Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco.